Picture this: you’re with a group pf people – some you know, and the topic of discussion is about politics. The mood is dark – you might feel angry or you might feel the tension rising. Then someone cracks a joke and everyone laughs with a combination of appreciation and relief. The underlying cause of the tension hasn’t gone, but the people in that group start to relax. And with that relaxation comes a greater willingness to listen.
We are always grateful to that person who has the skill of using laughter in a genuine way, because, as this small example demonstrates, laughter has a really important social function. Sophie Scott, Neuroscientist and stand-up comic, studies laughter. In her talk on Why we Laugh, she talks about the physiology of laughter and hints at laughter’s social impact. I want to focus on the social impact of laughter.
All mammals laugh. For so long, we (some of us) thought that only people laughed. Not true. All mammals laugh, and we (as mammals) laugh for two reasons: as a response to some form of physical stimulation (like tickling) or play. Specifically with humans, we are 13 times more likely to laugh for social reasons than over jokes. We laugh to show our friends we understand them, that we like them. Laughter helps us to regulate our emotions and to create bonds with others.
Further studies by other scientists have focused more on these social aspects of laughter. Dr. Robert Levinson in California conducted a study where couples were put into a stressful situation; one person was to tell the other about something that bothered them about their partner. This natural generated tension in anticipation. What Dr. Levinson found was that those people who dealt with this touchy topic using positive laughter were able to relieve the stress immediately. In fact, when following these and other couples, he found that those couples who use laughter reported higher levels of satisfaction in their relationship, and tended to stay together longer.
By now, we’ve all heard of laughter yoga, where people combine deep breathing techniques with forced belly laughter. Even though it’s faked – at least at first – it does supposedly produce positive physiological effects in our bodies. But it isn’t for everyone.
The thing to take away from what we now know about laughter is this:
- Laughter – positive laughter (vs. derisive laughter) – decreases stress hormones and increases endorphins;
- Laughing socially – including at ourselves in this way – helps us gain perspective and balance; and
- Laughter connects us with those we love.
Everyone underestimates how often we laugh. As a social experiment, spend a day noting when you laugh, and how it alters you in that moment.
I want to mention how this newsletter is structured, because I’ve discovered some confusion with some of my readers. The newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1, but most often is not referenced in part 1 (it offers a different point of view); the third is a quote. I hope this eliminates the confusion, and that you enjoy all three parts.
Quotes of the Week
Time can be kept by clocks and calendars, measured in inches and wrinkles, and caught in images and photographs. But if we are lucky, it can also be counted in a life well spent, full of learning, love, and laughter.
Blessed are those who laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused
At times we need more – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages. For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org