Seriously consider starting or actively participating in Community Laughter Clubs, which are loosely defined as informal groups of people who get together to laugh as a form of exercise. They are fully independent, not-for-profit, non-political, non-religious and non-competitive community-based associations of diverse people who choose to be happy. Everyone is welcome. Each club defines its own meeting frequency.
No one needs permission to start a Laughter Club. They do not report to anybody, are not told what to do, and do not pay royalties to anybody.
Registration is not required although appreciated. Listing your Community Laughter Club helps to put even more people in touch. There are two main directories of Community Laughter Clubs in the world:
Jokes clubs have been around since time immemorial.
The first Laughter Club named as such to use voluntary simulated laughter was created by Dr. Annette Goodheart in Santa Barbara, California, in 1975. It was a support group where people got together to laugh and cry. It did not survive the test of time.
Laughter Clubs were reinvented in India as Laughter Yoga by Dr. Kataria and became a worldwide social movement starting in the late 1990s.
Benefits of running a Community Laughter Club
Being involved in the running of a Community Laughter Club gives you the discipline to laugh on a regular basis. The more you do it, the better you get at it and the more you benefit from it.
Laughter sessions in general and Community Laughter Clubs in particular are sanctuaries of sanity in a world that so often seems to be spinning senselessly. In times when it might be easy to slip into cynicism, scorn or despair over the fate of humankind, they are a haven of hope. Whether or not you agree, optimism and hope make you a lot more cheerful and good humored, and make life a lot more pleasant.
Gathering with others on a regular basis to just laugh nourishes and allows hope to blossom:
- Hope for better health
- Hope for Joy and healthy laughter and play
- Hope for a peaceful world
- Hope for less stress
- Hope to be accepted and appreciated exactly as you are
- Hope for a sense of community, even with strangers
We now know that hope (expecting something good to happen) is healthful. Among the predictors of suicide, hopelessness is a more important factor than sadness. Desperation is a far dangerous state of mind than depression, and more difficult to treat. The old saying, “Where there is life, there is hope” might better be stated, “Where there is hope, there is life.”
And then there is the greater picture.
Proverbs tell the story of how a person might go about making the world a better place. If you would seek to improve the world, start with your own country. If you would improve your own country start with your own city. To improve your city, start with your own neighborhood; to improve your neighborhood start with your own household. To improve your household start with yourself.
Community Laughter Clubs are a part of the solution to a better world.
Know your big “why?”
Be clear in your intention – leave no room for wandering doubt that will throw you off course.
Although every Laughter Instructor brings their own personality and history to the challenge of organizing and conducting the laughter sessions, the most effective instructors are found to be dedicated, passionate and compassionate, stimulating, persuasive, compelling, energetic, vibrant, full-of-life, animated, whole-hearted, accepting, optimistic, “encouragers.”
Set the tone: Believe in yourself and others. This is going to be your baby for a while.
What will it look like?
Free vs fee
Community Laughter Clubs are not a commercial venture. It doesn’t mean that there can’t be an exchange of money (many clubs have a donation box), but it does mean that both the time of the instructor and the money of the participants are freely given. They are void of expectations.
What you will gain there is far more valuable than money, for touching someone’s life has no price.
An old man was once wheeled in to the Laughter Club of Vishwa Prakask in New York City. He was carrying an intravenous feeding tube and an oxygen mask with him and was too weak to even participate. All he did in that session was observe and smile. As it turned out, hearing the sound of laughter was his dying wish.
When and how often will you meet?
Deciding when you will meet is not really about finding out when people are available but rather when you are available. There must be an instructor (someone who knows how things work) and that person will be you for a little while, so you get to decide.
There are no clear trends you can follow. Experience shows that there is a crowd for every day and every hour. You just have to find it.
Laughing in the morning will give energy for the day. Laughing in the evening will relax you from your day.
Some Community Laughter Clubs in India meet as early as 3:30am every single day. Others never start before 8pm. Some meet on week-days, others only on week-ends. Some happen first thing on Monday morning. Others enjoy laughing but only on Friday evenings.
Consider having a weekly meeting. It’s much harder to create awareness in the community, build a membership and develop strong friendships when you just meet once per month.
Finding a location
If you can, try to find a room that has chairs (important) and is clean enough so that you can lay on the floor if you want to. Big spaces are fine because you can always gather in a corner (it creates a more intimate space). Beware of small spaces with lots of echo.
Renting a commercial space should be the absolute last resort. It is the easiest answer, but in no way the only one. There are plenty of available free facilities and you can have one, but you need to be creative. The question is not if you will find something, but what you will find.
Be mindful of others: Make sure there is no conflict with your neighbors (if any) above, below, left and right. A group of people laughing heartily can be heard far and wide.
All the nice and free community resources are likely to be in high demand, but this is the first thing you may want to investigate. Never assume, always check:
- Community centers
- Church facilities
- Parks & recreations facilities
- Public libraries and hospitals usually let you use their meeting room for free up to a specified number of times per year as long as your meetings are free and public
Tip: Look in your local calendar of events which free groups are already meeting and where. The “where” is what is of interest to you. Pro-actively contact all the organizers of these free gatherings. Chances are they have been active for a while and know the community well. Pick their brain and ask for advice. That is likely to save you some time.
You can try to hook up with an existing activity or program that people already attend on a regular basis. Part of the reason why Laughter Clubs are so popular in India is because they take place in public parks where lots of people go daily for their morning walk. In a way they have a captive audience.
Look into your local free and for-fee calendar of events, both online and in print. This will tell you who is doing what and when. Contact these groups and introduce yourself and Laughter Yoga to them. Would they like to add your session to their program? Several people I know have successfully partnered with their local YMCA, senior center or a support group.
There are lots of private resources that are potentially available but will never be advertised. How will you find them?
- Ask, and keep asking. The first reason why people help others is because they are asked. Share with as many people as you can think what you are looking for, and ask for ideas and suggestions. Someone may volunteer his or her home. A business may volunteer their space.
- Meet the owners of your local yoga and dance studios. They may be interested in hosting a free community event once a month or more frequently. They may even pay you for that!
- Contact your local Lions Club and Kiwanis group and ask for their support. Their members are well established in the community and may be able to help you. Also find out where they meet. Maybe you could meet there as well.
- Ask your local church(es), retirement communities, schools and universities if they have available free space on your chosen day and time. It could be a basement or a gymnasium.
Fundraising to pay for commercial rentals
If it boils down to that and you need to rent a space, why not ask for sponsorship money to local businesses to pay for it? Community Laughter Clubs provide a genuine service to the community. This will require a bit more preparation and lots more convincing, but it is possible. You will get lots of “no, thank you” but each one will take you closer to the ultimate “yes, of course” that you need.
Approach people on the phone or face to face rather than in writing. If someone asks for you to mail them something, the answer is always “of course“, but offer to drop it off in person. More often than not you will realize that it is a very convenient and polite way to say “can I get rid of you that easily?”
Secrets of Community Laughter Club success
Make it a collective effort
It is unwise to believe that you will be available to lead your Community Laughter Club every single week. You are not expected to do everything yourself. Form a core group, quickly. This is a group of people who like this activity, keep coming back and are willing to help you because you have asked them. Empower them to lead some exercises on a regular basis. Share with them the leading of your sessions. Ask them to help you with the promotional efforts. Make it “their” club as much as yours. It will help you greatly and be much more fun that way.
- Make a list of what you need or how people could help you and pass it out. You may be surprised at how many people are willing to help when you ask them.
- Delegate and enthusiastically support all efforts. Encourage full club participation.
- Hold inclusive planning meetings or retreats for visioning and creating action plans for the club’s future.
- Share responsibilities, leading, talents, creativity, ideas and resources.
- Keep it fresh by encouraging all members to come up with new themes and exercises.
- Create and engage in group projects.
- Celebrate club milestones.
- Invite your core group members to warmly welcome all new visitors and invite them to bring friends and family.
- Free Community Laughter Club resources are available here.
Create a social support network
- Go to them if they can’t come to you by bringing in-home sessions to members unable to attend.
- Make it a family community by celebrating members’ birthdays, graduations, and other life-victories (ask to find out when those are!)
- Offer loving support to members through the tougher times of loss, change, transition, illness.
- Plan and create frequent, free or low-cost play dates and fun social outings.
- Someone new to your area? Offer friendship, local information, resources and opportunities.
- Suggest a community potluck once a month or so. Make it clear that there will be plenty of food to share, and even more so if people bring some. This potluck could be immediately after your laughter session. It could also be a special outing to a local park, landmark, beach or any other popular location in your neighborhood.
- Take lots of pictures and videos! Share them on social media, by email only, or simply show them on a laptop after the laughter session.
Attract new members and keep them coming back
There is no value in being the best-kept secret in town. To get people to come you have to let them know first that you exist.
Below are many ideas that look beyond just inviting your friends and relatives. You don’t have to implement them all, and you would not even be able to unless this was your full time job. Aim to do at least one per week; just one, but no less than one. Be patient and don’t give up. It typically takes six months to one year for a new Community Laughter Club to reach critical mass in attendance and have people come every week without having to be reminded.
Create a website
Having a website is no guarantee that people will find it, but it’s an easy way to display information in a place that virtually everybody can access. Here is the easiest way to do it. It will cost you less than $20/year + your time. How to do it.
Hand out business cards
These are easy and relatively inexpensive to make. You can ask everybody you meet to take a few with them and hand them out to people they think could be interested. www.vistaprint.com will give you 250 business cards for the cost of shipping (their logo will be printed on the back).
Advertise in local calendars of events
Insert your club’s details in calendar of events (there can be a lot of those, both online and in print), and post a flyer on local notice boards. The challenge with this approach is that it can be a very time consuming as you need to renew your (free) ad every week or fortnight.
What are the largest businesses in your area? Maybe they have an internal newsletter with a calendar of events. Call their Human Resources Department and find out. You are providing a service of value to their staff and it’s on their free time.
Many private schools send out a weekly newsletter that often includes upcoming social activities in town.
Some people in the USA find www.meetup.com useful, but it costs $72 every six months.
Ask for help. You don’t have to do it all yourself.
Do the best you can.
Leverage the power of the media and social media
Go meet your local TV and newspapers journalists. Ask for the person in charge of healthy living news or local events (they may have a different title, but that’s a good place to start). A new Community Laughter Club in town is news. Do not just email or fax a press release (see example below). Bring it in person. Talk to your contact. Make an appointment and come back if you need to.
Morning radio talk shows are always looking for a good story and someone to interview. Why not you? You will have about three minutes on average. Be clear on the message you want to convey and practice it well ahead of time. Do role-plays. What you want to say is more important than answering the questions they may have. Always bring the interview back to your own agenda Gradient Laughter, Just Laugh, Humming Laughter and Laughter Vowels are good exercises to do on the radio.
Target people who know people
Local yoga and dance studios, doctors, psychotherapists, the staff and owner of local small health-food stores, the organizers of local support groups are all prime targets for you. Meet them and invite them to come and experience your sessions. If they like it they are very likely to refer lots of people to you.
Offer monthly demonstrations
Showcase your skills to the community in the context of public awareness seminars. They can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on what you want to do and where they are being held, and can be either free or for fee. If there is a fee you will have to work more to help market.
You can offer them in local retirement communities, schools, libraries, yoga or dance studios…wherever you want, really.
At the beginning it will serve you well to offer at least one such demonstration once per month.
Build a mailing list
People need to be reminded. Get into the habit of collecting the email address (in block letters) of all the people who express interest and send them a reminder a few days before your meeting.
You could use a free service such as mailchimp.com (free up to 2,000 subscribers) to automate and send your email reminders.
Connect to the larger community
Expand participation with your local community, the international laughter community and the world at large.
- Talk about World Laughter Day and consider organizing a local celebration together;
- Are there any local parades near you? Propose participating as a group.
The legal side
Should I ask participants to sign a non-disclaimer form each time we laugh together?
It’s up to you.
If you resonate with the idea and it makes you feel more comfortable, then the answer is absolutely yes. They have value as a form of prevention, in that they reinforce the message that people are responsible for their own health. From a legal viewpoint, however, they offer no real protection. In the USA a non-disclaimer form must be read out loud and signed in front of a witness to be valid in Court, and even that is not a guarantee you will win a lawsuit.
Just for the record, several Laughter Yoga practitioners and Community Laughter Clubs have been taken to court over the years in various countries around the world, but none for health reasons so far. The consistent complaint is noise disturbance, and the request of the attacking party is to “stop the cacophony.”
Should I have public liability insurance?
In the USA most facilities will require you to have insurance if you want to use their premises. They may forget to ask, but if they do it doesn’t mean that they don’t need it. In other cases you will be covered under an existing plan. Ask.
Always give ample of consideration to a safe practice if you choose to go without! Life happens even to the best of us. Review your existing insurance policies and/or ask your insurance broker for advice. You may not need a new plan after all.
The cost of public liability insurance in the USA varies between about $99 and $299 per year depending on terms. Laughter Yoga is covered under the broad categories of personal trainers and yoga teachers.
Insurance companies may ask what diploma you have out of interest so that they know who buys their products, but a formal diploma is usually not required. I have posted a list of companies you may want to investigate here, from cheaper to more expensive (the more you pay, the more you get).
Photo/video release form
You may one day want to take pictures of the people in your laughter sessions. Why not? Everybody is happy and in a good mood. This provides great visual images and could be used in your promotional material to inspire others to join your group.
It is good practice however to always ask for permission first.
The world being what it currently is, if you really want to do things legally then you will need to have everybody on your pictures sign a photo release form.