Laughter, the best medicine

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When was the last time you had a laugh? I mean a really good, side-splitting, nose snorting, belly aching laugh?

When did life get so serious? I look at children and their ability to find joy in the most unusual of places quite awe inspiring.

Why do we laugh?

According to Professor Provine of Maryland University (he’s a studier of laughter), it’s not really because we find things funny. He noted that only 10-20% of laughter came from anything resembling a joke, the rest came from inane comments like, “It was nice meeting you too.” (I’m rolling in the aisles…).

Apparently laughter predates speech and was a simpler method of communication. It’s instinctual. Babies laugh almost from birth and people born deaf and blind still know how to laugh.

Did you know? Babies laugh about 300 times a day while adults laugh about 20 times per day.

Anyone who has ever had an inappropriate laughing fit (I was kicked out of a yoga class every day in India for being unable to control myself during a particular breathing sequence) will know, that unlike speaking, it’s not always in our control. It’s also contagious (by week’s end half of the class had to leave with me…).

So contagious in fact, that in 1962, in small town Tanzania, three girls got the giggles. It spread…to 95, lasting for hours before the snickers settled, only to start up again. On and off for three months! The school closed, re-opened and then closed again. The contagion affected neighbouring towns. All in all over 1000 people were ‘laugh struck’ and a full 18 months passed before everyone settled down!

Laughter is also social, it’s not a solo activity. According to Provine, we laugh 30 times more when we’re with others than we do alone (except when I watch IT crowd). Current thinking is that we laugh, not for self-expression, but to trigger positive feelings in others as it can ease tension and foster a sense of group unity.

Did you know? Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) won’t crack you up when inhaled in solitude.