By Kamal Tolia
The Laughter Curriculum ….. Part 1. Introduction
When we came down on earth, God knew we would be facing happy times, sad times and very, very stressful times. In his infinite Mercy, and because He loves us so much, he thought: ‘Let me lessen their burden. I will give them Humour and I will give them Laughter.’ And so it is that we were given the boon to appreciate humour in our lives and the ability to LAUGH!
We are the only creatures with this special gift. Look around you …. Do horses laugh? Have you seen an ant rear up on its hind legs and roar with laughter? Have you seen a cat so much as smile? Even a dog who we know can love unconditionally, cannot laugh at a joke! Not even the laughing hyena enjoys humour. Its laugh is actually only its natural sound, just like the barking of dogs, mooing of cows, clucking of hens ……..
But we humans! Ah! We can laugh, or at least smile soon after we are born. We use our vocal cords for crying as well as laughing and chortling.
Laughter is part of the plan for humans. It was put in place by God for us to be healthy, happy and wise, to help us cope and survive.
It is part of Life’s Learning School’s Curriculum. Just as our school has a curriculum, so also the School of Life has a curriculum. Our Childhood school’s curriculum involves serious, strict, academic subjects like maths and english, less serious, less strict non academic subjects like sports and music, and extracurricular fun activities like various clubs. Similarly, our Life School has a main curriculum in which we have experiences (subjects) to develop mental maturity, emotional maturity and an extracurricular section in which we have to develop and maintain humour, sharing, loving, giving and laughing.
But there is a small difference. In the school of our childhood, the time allocation was 90% to the main subjects, only 10% to the extracurricular ones. In the School of Life, however, God intended that the ratio should be at least 50 -50. The extracurricular activities must run concurrently with our lessons for mental maturity and emotional maturity. In fact they are interconnected. They support each other beautifully. They sort of run into each another. So it is that each time you laugh, you become emotionally and mentally stronger, and as you grow mentally and emotionally stronger, you are able to laugh more ……
So Laughter is a very important part of our Life. But over the years, as we grew up, we have forgotten how to laugh as we did in our childhood. We have forgotten how to enjoy life. We are a sad, sorry lot! We need to bring back laughter in our lives and experience the freedom it brings.
Let us not waste this precious Gift from God. As we learn the lessons of life, let us remember to laugh. Let us laugh and laugh, and when that is over, let us laugh some more!
The Laughter Curriculum … Part 2. Laughter and Children
‘A . . mos . . quito!!’
Did this make you laugh? It was a joke my 6 year old niece used to tell me over and over again each time I met her. The first time she told me, we laughed and laughed till tears rolled down our faces. After hearing it a couple of times, it became a worn out joke and didn’t make me laugh. Not so for my niece …… she would still collapse with laughter. Seeing her enjoying it so much, I would smile, and before long I would find myself joining her in laughing all over again!
Have you noticed how easy it is to make a baby laugh? Just playing’ peek – a – boo’ with him is enough to draw out peals of laughter from him! Even writing this makes me want to smile! Researchers have found that even 17 days old babies make laughing sounds. They can laugh before they learn to speak! Even children who are born blind and deaf can laugh just as well as all children.
Janak shares this about his childhood ‘…… I went to an all boys school in India. Every year we used to do the Ram Lila. Do you know which part was the most sought after? No not Ram or Ravan, or Laxman, and definitely not Sita ….. remember we were all boys! The role that everyone wanted was of Hanumanji! When it came to picking the right person, we all tried to outdo each other …… in the number of times we jumped around, played antics on the stage, turned cartwheels …….. all in the hope of being chosen for the funniest role. But then something funny would happen. In all the trying hard, we began to enjoy the comic part so much and in all the laughing, and by now with all the teachers joining in the laughter, even Hanumanji was forgotten!’
We may not remember many things of our childhood, but some memories stick out, usually the happy ones. This is one such memory of mine. There used to be this wonderful smiling man who used to come every Thursday evenings to the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai. He was like the pied piper. As soon as word got around that he had arrived, we (I must have been 7 or 8 years old) used to drop all we were doing and flock to him. Enthralled, we would watch as he opened his bag, take out a hand puppet, and give us a funny show. Another puppet would follow and then another, and all of us would be laughing and laughing. Our laughter would attract even some adults who would come over to us and start to laugh simply because we were laughing so much!
Children naturally seek out happy, fun times. They do not entertain sadness. They know the secret of being happy and bouncing with health. We would do well to copy their example!
The Laughter Curriculum … Part 3. Laughter and our body
According to some studies, Laughter has many benefits:
- Laughter boosts the immune system.
Never before in the history of humankind has our immune system needed as much boosting as it does now. What with diseases like cancer and aids so rampant, our immune system will thank us for laughing more!
Laughter increases the disease fighting immune cells so your resistance to disease increases.
- Laughter decreases the stress hormones
Is there anybody who can say they have no stress? Stress has become a way of life for us. Since it is unavoidable, we have to look for means to reduce it, and there is no better way of doing this than indulging in laughter
- Laughter relaxes muscles throughout the body
Tight muscles result in misalignment of the bony skeleton and all body parts, disrupting the flow of ‘prana’ and causing disease. Laughter relaxes every muscle in the body which remain relaxed for up to 45 minutes after the laughing session!
- Laughter boosts the circulatory system
Even the muscles of the blood vessels relax, and more blood can flow in the blood vessels. This can protect you from diseases like Hyper and Hypo tension
- Laughter enhances oxygen intake.
Once again, because the muscles of the chest relax, it can expand well, breathing improves, and more oxygen enters our lungs.
- Laughter stimulates the heart and lungs
Following the same reasoning, the heart and lungs perform their functions well. The chances of getting heart and lung diseases are drastically reduced!
- Laughter triggers the release of endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers)
Laughter relaxes the body so it can perform this natural function with ease.
- Laughter eases digestion and soothes stomach aches
Once again, all muscles relax, even those of the digestive system. Digestion proceeds smoothly and stomach aches disappear!
- Laughter relieves pain
With the endorphins being released naturally, relief from pain is a natural outcome!
- Laughter improves mental functions.
With the whole body relaxing, every muscle relaxing, more blood flowing, more oxygen intake, Laughter is responsible for boosting the poor circulation to our brain as we get older. More oxygen to the brain means better brain functions of alertness, memory, creativity! The senior citizens amongst us cannot afford to not Laugh!
Nitrous oxide, used to be employed by dentists because of its anaesthetic properties. It was also called laughing gas, because when administered to patients, it relaxed them giving them an euphoric ‘High’. Their jaw muscles would relax, allowing the dentist to do his work! In the 14th and 15th centuries, the European Elite would have ‘Nitrous Oxide Parties’ in which the guests could get giggly and ‘High’ on the gas.
Well, we do not need these drastic methods to relax anymore! Research has shown that laughing stimulates our hypothalamus region of the brain to generate a natural version of this laughing gas! So in other words, when you laugh, you produce laughing gas which makes you laugh even more, which produces more laughing gas ………
The Laughter Curriculum … Part 4. Laughter …. more benefits
Other benefits of Laughter include:
- Improved overall attitude
Because laughter reduces stress, our positive energy increases, allowing us to ‘see things’ in a more positive light. Quite naturally, our overall attitude to life changes.
- Improved sleep
If you see the funny side of everything, there is nothing to worry about, and you can sleep soundly.
- Enhanced quality of life
Laughing often helps you to relax and not to take life so seriously. You learn to see the funny side in most situations and letting go becomes easier.
- Strengthens social bonds and relationships
All emotional sharing builds bonds, but laughing together has been found to be especially effective in this area.
- Produces a general sense of well being.
Laughing often reduces our physical and emotional pain, making us feel ‘well all over’.
- Emotional Wellness
When you laugh, emotions that are upsetting you dissolve away, because it is impossible to laugh and feel sad or angry or anxious at the same time
- Diffusing Anger and Violence
Laughter diffuses pent up emotions safely. Only after that can we heal from inside.
- Easing Conflict and Misunderstanding
Laughter relaxes you enough to see the other person’s point of view, so you react without judgment or criticism. Conflict and misunderstandings are greatly reduced
- Fighting Depression
People who have humour in their lives have been found to have a positive, optimistic view through difficult situations, traumas, loss and disappointments. They do not get sucked into wallowing in their negative situations.
- Overcoming Marital Issues
Finding reasons to laugh together can help couples get closer to each other. Watching funny movies together helps them relax enough to put aside their disagreements. Done often enough it can even save marriages.
Gelotology is the study of laughter and its effects. Much research is still being done on laughter. Paul E McGhee PhD is one of the earliest pioneers in this research. After receiving his degree in development psychology, he spent 22 years conducting basic research on humour and laughter. He has created ‘The Laughter Remedy’ and ‘The Laughter Effect.’ According to him, ‘your sense of humour is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health.’ In other words, all conditions and situations from cardiac rehabilitation to depression can all be helped with laughter.
Cathy Goodman who was diagnosed with breast cancer, gives her personal testament to the healing power of Laughter in the book ‘The Secret’. ‘One of the things I did to heal myself was watch very funny movies. That’s all that we (my husband and I) would do — just laugh and laugh …. From the time I was diagnosed to the time I was healed was approximately three months and that’s without any radiation and chemotherapy.’
Laughter indeed, as the saying goes, is the best medicine for all of Life!
The Laughter Curriculum … Part 5. Laughter …. A Deeper Understanding
As we grow old, our bodies may show the ravages of time ….we may lose our teeth, our sense of hearing may fail, our eye sight may diminish. Our bodies may not move as fast as we want them to. But our ability to laugh? This, without fail, is a gift which can be ours till our dying day. Let us examine and understand this beautiful gift.
Laughing when everything is going smoothly ensures that they continue that way. But it is even more important to learn to laugh even when things are not going smoothly. This may sound hard, but actually, it is not so. You might have heard laughter in hospital waiting rooms, during funerals and even near accident areas. Are these funny places? No. So why do people laugh in these situations? Because, Laughing is the body’s most natural way of coping with sorrow, disappointments, hurt, pain. Sounds Bizarre? Only because we have been conditioned that laughing in these times shows disrespect, is rude, etc.
According to Enda Junkins, MSW, LCSW, BCD, ‘amazingly many of us laugh in serious situations, and even when we are down in the dumps. Laughter through tears has been called the perfect emotion.’
Unfortunately, most of us have forgotten how to laugh. We find that to laugh requires effort on our part. We have to break the taboos on laughing which we have unconsciously built over the years since childhood. We have to learn to listen to that inner voice which tells us to go ahead and smile and laugh, in favour of the voice which tells us ….‘to wipe that smile of your face’… ‘you should be ashamed of yourself, wanting to laugh when you should be crying’ …. ‘what’s there to laugh about? Life stinks’ ……
Though we know laughter is a good thing, unfortunately, we have been overlooking how perfectly we can use it for healing ourselves. We were given this natural medicine for more than just grinning. While we do not hesitate to take medicines for everything that ails us, we hesitate to laugh. We do not realize that laughter can help even to the point that we may not need those drugs!
A lot of treatments are available for depression, none of them without serious side effects! Rarely does conventional medicine focus on the reasons why somebody is feeling down in the dumps. The reason is simple: We have forgotten how to approach life in a spirit of play. We know this deeply and instinctively. We used to do it as children. It got lost somewhere along the way as we grew up. The time has come for us to reverse our thinking: We have to give ourselves permission to play.
Give yourself the permission to see the humour in your life. Almost without exception, even the most serious situation has a humorous content. Give yourself permission to look for it, acknowledge it, and laugh or at least smile.
Oscar Wilde: Life is too important to be taken seriously.
The Laughter Curriculum … Part 6 ….Laughter Clubs
How do we bring laughter back into our lives?
We have to find things that we find funny. Having found them we must enjoy them as often as we can. We must laugh. To begin with, we might find it difficult to do this, but laughter experts like Enda Junkins tells us to not give up. ‘Just fake Laughter’ she advises us. ‘Enjoy Pretend Laughter. Make the sounds of laughter and move your body as you laugh. Do this often enough and soon real laughter will kick in’
Doing the above when you are alone, is hard, to say the least. We have a fear of being labeled ‘mad’ if we are seen ‘laughing by ourselves, for apparently no reason at all.’ But there is a way round this.
My nephew Hemant is an early morning jogger. One morning, about 15 years ago, he was jogging along, in the silent predawn. There were others like him, jogging or walking briskly and one man walking his dog. All were silent, even the dog, only footsteps could be heard. In the semi darkness they could barely see one other. Suddenly, the silence was rent with a loud ‘Ha ha ha ha, Hee hee hee hee…. Hi hi hi hi hi …. , Ho ho ho ho ho ….. Huuu huuu huuu huuu huuu ….
Hemant froze. The other joggers froze. The man walking the dog froze. Even the dog froze. Each one froze in various poses of movement. The dog had three legs on the ground, one leg bent in the air! The ones who were late in freezing, bumped into the ones in front of them who had stopped! What was that?!! And then the second time, the disembodied sounds rent the eerie silence! …. ‘Ha ha ha ha ha …. Hee hee hee hee hee …. Hi hi hi hi hi …. , Ho ho ho ho ho ….. Huuu huuu huuu huuu huuu ….
What was happening? Where were they coming from? Enter Laughter Clubs. A group of people were indulging in this early morning remedy in a clearing in the park. A tall hedge separated them from the joggers shielding them from their vision. When it became apparent that it was only people laughing, the joggers breathed a collective sigh of relief. Then, when the sounds Ha ha ….. hit the air the third time, even the joggers smiled, some ending up laughing as well. And since they could not laugh and jog at the same time, they simply gave up jogging and joined in the laughter merriment! The dog did his bit too by barking madly …..
Laughter Clubs fulfill a special need of today. It is easier to engage in ‘pretend laughter’ with other people than alone by yourself. The proliferation of Laughter Clubs over the last few years is a testament to their success. Engaging in collective laughter is a boost to real laughter surfacing. Then you stop feeling stupid or you stop caring if you do.
The Laughter Curriculum … Part 7…. Laughter Tips
According to Enda Junkins, a nationally known speaker on the benefits of laughter, we are a serious nation with serious people who have serious health problems, many of which are related to stress. Laughter relieves stress.
Here are a few Laughter Tips from her to improve your life:
- Smile at each other when you first wake up
- Go on a spur –of –the-moment picnic
- Cuddle up on the couch when you watch TV
- Walk together holding hands – swing those hands
- Make a special time each day to laugh and talk – just the two of you
- Laugh together for 5 -10 mins everyday
- Do one loving and light hearted thing for each other each day
- Point out the days absurdities to each other and laugh about them
- Consciously smile at each other more
- Stay playful in your interaction by keeping your voice and body language playful
- Have a laughter match to see who can laugh loudest and longest
- Surround yourself with flowers ‘The earth laughs in flowers’ Emerson’
- Echo each other’s laugh. Laugh each time your partner laughs
- Count the number of times you laugh each day. Compete and share them
- Tell each other how much you enjoy the other’s laughter and sense of humour
- Play together one hour a week. Examples: Sing, dance, race each other, give exaggerated hugs, count smiling faces when driving together
At the workplace
- Look for the funny things that always exist like typos, the funny actions of your co-workers, your own funny behavior
- Use cartoons to help with communication
- Laugh with your co-workers for a few minutes for no reason at all.
- Incorporate elements of a game into your work. For example, give yourself a prize for completing a project; give yourself a cheer; develop a ritualized, playful way of turning on your computer.
- Laugh for 5 minutes in your car on the way to work
Generally in your life
- Practice laughing 5 minutes each day. Fake it till you make it
- Look for humour around you – on signs, in people’s behavior, on TV, in the newspaper, the things other say, the crazy things that happen to you – keep a journal
- Share your embarrassing things with other people
- Laugh with other people when they laugh
- Wear a smile. It puts you closer to laughing
- Seek out entertainment which makes you laugh
- Amuse yourself with your own sense of humour
- Buy and listen daily to a tape of laughter, a laugh box, or a laughing toy
- Cultivate your innate playfulness
- Be creative with fun
- Make sure you have fun
- Give yourself permission to laugh at anything you need to
- Do at least one silly, non-conforming thing a day
You might have heard the saying: A family that prays together stays together.
I have adapted it slightly: A family that laughs together stays happily together!
The Laughter Curriculum … Part 8…. Laughter ….. Getting started
How do you start laughing your way through life’s recurrent blows? It cannot be accomplished over night. It involves adopting a new behaivour and making it into a habit. And as in all fields, success is sure to follow provided we are ready to take baby steps and persist on the path.
Read more jokes and watch funny movies and TV programmes. If there aren’t enough of these to give you at least a half hour a day of laughter, do the following: Even remembering funny stories from the past can make you want to laugh. Even remembering how much you laughed at a past joke can make you want to laugh all over again! How many times have we laughed when relating our childhood antics, goof ups, etc.? Family get-togethers are perfect places for reliving the funny moments of your childhood and that of your siblings.
Join Laughter clubs! For Laughter is contagious. Very contagious. Laughing in a group is group therapy at its best! An hour of hearty, care a hang, letting it all out laughter will give you an emotional high for the rest of the day!
There is only one word of caution which I feel needs mentioning here. Some people tell me that they do laugh, but have not noticed feeling better in any way. On inspection, I have found that their humour consists of laughing at other people. Please do not fall into this trap. Laughter should never be at the expense of another human being or even an animal. When you begin to see the funny side of things in your life, and can laugh at yourself without feeling ashamed, then you will begin to benefit from the laughter. And the best part is that if you can laugh at yourself, then no amount of others laughing at you will diminish your spirits.
Another habit you can make yours is to smile at EVERYONE you see or meet during the day. Smiling is only one step away from laughing. This way, you will be ready to laugh all day, won’t miss even one second of humour which might be just round the corner! I know what you must be thinking! How can I wear a smile all day? For Heaven’s sake, people will think me looney or ‘all not there’. I can’t afford to give that impression. Believe me, if at all they have these unsavoury thoughts about you, know that they will quickly change their mind when they see how ‘happy’ you look, and the happy aura you project. They may even become envious of you, and wish they could be like you! Well, all the more reason to smile and laugh when you can. Soon the smiling will catch on, and they will smile more often too. And since smiling can lead to laughing, voila, you will soon have a mini laughter club of your own!
An old saying: Laugh and the whole world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone.
The Laughter Curriculum … Part 9 Laughter …. Conclusion
The single biggest cause of illness in our world today is Stress. The single most powerful antidote to it is Laughter. Any kind of Laughter will do …… Ringing laughter, peals of laughter, roaring laughter, bubbling laughter, choking laughter, tears running down the face laughter, chuckling, giggling, snickering, snorting, guffawing even smiling!
Laughter helps us cope and survive. The source of laughter is our emotional core. It helps us field the inevitable blows life deals us with ease. Every time we laugh we are empowered in our emotional core. We feel better, see things more clearly, are able to handle all situations with more confidence.
‘Before the assault of laughter nothing can stand’ Mark Twain
- Laughter brings out the creativity in us. We are able to work harder
- Laughter promotes spontaneity, shifting your focus away from your problems to possible solutions
- Laughter reduces aggression and conflict. You cannot have differences when you laugh together. Laughter has such a high degree of vibration that all lower vibrations of violence, hate, anger cannot survive in its presence.
- It is an isolation buster. Laughing together increases the bonding between the people and decreases loneliness.
- Laughter helps release criticism, judgment and doubts
- It is the greatest medicine for reducing anxiety. One cannot laugh and be anxious at the same time, it is physically impossible.
- Laughter is the perfect remedy to release fears and brings out deeply held traumas to the surface to be released also. Laughing also helps us see our fears in perspective and realize they are not monsters!
- It is contagious. Laughter clubs are successful because of this one great property of Laughter. Alone, you might not be able to sustain your laughter for more than a few minutes. But laughing in a group, ah! There is no stopping you then! Seeing others laugh switches on your laughter even if you don’t know why they are laughing in the first place! Laughter creates laughter. As in all aspects of numbers, the benefits of laughing in numbers are enormous!
- Laughter is Universal! Everybody can laugh. It has no language. Everybody laughs in the same way, everybody smiles in the same way. Music is considered universal. My belief is that Laughter is even more universal! Music is said to be the language of the soul, but all of us may not bond with music that is alien to our culture. But with Laughter, no problem. No kind of laughter is alien to any human being.
- Laughter is excellent for bringing peace. Alex Sternick has been proclaimed “Laughter Ambassador” for his contribution of bringing Arabs and Jews to laugh together. Laughing helped them to let go of judgements, hatred, and expectations, allowing healing to begin.
- Finally, Laughter is fun. It gives us back our playfulness, making us as happy as kids!
You want to be happy? Then throw back your head and laugh —– without depending on jokes or humor, the same way a little child doesn’t rely on any reason to laugh!