Here are 23 suggestions from Annette Goodheart to help yourself laugh, from her most excellent book Laughter Therapy: How to Laugh About Everything in Your Life That Isn’t Really Funny.
Dr Annette Goodheart, PhD (1935-2011), was a psychologist from Santa Barbara, California, who specialized in laughter therapy starting in the late 1960s. She was the first to create a theoretical framework for the use of voluntary simulated laughter and how to relearn to laugh without ridicule in order to maximize healing and connection with ourselves, each other and the universe. She created a whole set of techniques on how to use laughter to release (and thereby provide relief from) strong or repressed emotions.
|1. Fake it until you make it.||Faking it is the most obvious way to start laughing when nothing is funny-and yet for some people it’s the hardest. No one wants to be accused of a phony laugh. So at first you’ll feel self-conscious, forcing it. Once you get some convulsions going in your diaphragm, your body will take over. You’ll be doing it naturally, and maybe remembering things that are laughable. Even if the laughter remains mechanical, it will lift your facial muscles into the laughing posture and stimulate your thymus gland. It will remind you of what it’s like-how easy it is, after all-to laugh. The Zen Buddhists who begin each day with fifteen minutes of laughter may have to start by faking it. It’ s like starting your car on a cold morning: once the ignition turns over, your engine catches. This works because our diaphragms are stupid and cannot distinguish between fake and real laughter. If you’re having difficulty, try it in front of a mirror. The sight of your earnest, quizzical face might be enough to inspire you. Or sit down with a friend and fake it together, thereby doubling your chances of success.|
|2. Smile more.||If you find it difficult to laugh, then you might want to consider smiling more. If your face is in an “up” position, there is less gravity to fight and laughter will come more easily. In this case, function follows form.|
|3. Share your embarrassing moments.||Sharing our embarrassing moments allows us to experience connection. By retelling these embarrassing incidents we get back in touch with the pain of the embarrassment that has more often than not gone unreleased. In addition, the listener can also remember unreleased embarrassment and share in the laughter release. This creates a closeness that allows us to see one another as we really are-imperfect, stumbling, bumbling mistake-making human beings.Share the time you spilled the cup of coffee on your guest’s lap, the time you put a letter in a wrong envelope (and sent a love letter to your insurance company ), the time when you fell on your face, the time when you were trying to look especially good and discovered that you had your sweater wrong side out, and the time you walked through the restaurant with a piece of toilet paper stuck to your heel. These are the stories we need to share with one another. Most embarrassing moments have to do with people getting caught in their postures, pretenses, and poses.We all walk around in our daily lives acting and looking like we have it all together. We pretend we have no problems, as if we know exactly where we’re going and what we’re doing. Then, once in a while, we get tripped up. We get caught with our slip showing or our fly unzipped.When you can openly share your own blunders with others, then you are making an immediate connection with their sense of vulnerability. You are appealing directly to their humanity by sharing the release of embarrassed laughter and as a result, you will end up feeling closer.One reminder: when you tell a story on yourself, do it without putting yourself down. If you say, “Oh, what a jerk I am!” the resulting laughter won’t release the tension from the incident, but instead will be releasing the pain you inflicted on yourself by putting yourself down. Just remember that to feel foolish is universal and divine.|
|4. Laugh along with strangers.||It’s safer, and therefore easier, to laugh with somebody else who’s already laughing. Take every opportunity to laugh.|
|5. Collect toys.||Children don’t need toys. They can be content for hours playing with a cardboard box. Adults need toys. Go to the toy store and buy yourself some real toys. Real toys have no meaning and no redeeming social value. They are purposeless in that they have no other reason for existing except to provide enjoyment.Something else you can do in a toy store is to ask the salespeople what their favorite toys are. People who work in toy stores get paid close to minimum wage and, because they enjoy working there so much, they will take less money just to be there.Take toys to work. If you’re worried about being caught playing with them, just leave them on your desk. Sooner or later your co-workers will pause at your desk and start winding up the toys. It’ s hard not to laugh when a pair of tennis shoes is walking across your desk. Toys give us a vacation from dignity. They permit us to laugh about nothing.|
|6. Play with small animals (and large ones if you’re brave.)||Puppies and kittens will help you laugh without effort. Have you ever stretched out on the floor and let a litter of month-old puppies walk ail over you, or chew at your fingers? Puppies attack with love, and laughter is inevitable. Studies have shown that animals have a noticeable impact on people’ s moods and physical states. Pets have been introduced into retirement and convalescent homes with marked improvement in the residents’ blood pressure. Playing with small animals is a loving and entertaining way to bring more laughter into our lives. Playing with large animals is certainly a bigger risk than playing with small animals, but it can result in bigger laughs.|
|7. Make a “serious” list and be very serious about it.||Making a “serious” list has two benefits. First, if you do it conscientiously, you’ll see how much of your daily life consists of stressful pursuits. Second, once you look at this very serious list, you’re bound to achieve the perspective that allows you to laugh.After you make your list, read it to yourself or in front of a mirror, very seriously. Frown and say to yourself, “My job is very serious business. My finances are very serious. My family is very very serious…”Seriousness, which passes for concern, importance, and responsibility, is the way we control our emotions. We clamp our faces into a serious expression, our voices into a serious monotone, and our bodies into a rigid posture in order to not express or reveal our fear, anger, or grief.|
|8. Laugh with a baby.||It’s difficult to maintain seriousness around babies. We tolerate making faces and silly noises if they are directed at a baby. You can make yourself laugh by attempting to entertain or catch a baby’s attention. Very often the baby will laugh along with you, or sometimes they will stare at you as if you are crazy. If you are with a baby, try the game of peek-a-boo (now I’m here, now I’m not). It not only allows you to be playful and laugh, but the baby will be able to release light fear concerning the disappearance of adults.|
|9. Do something out of character.||When we do something out of character, it often results in laughter. This gives everyone present an opportunity to laugh and join in the fun of the incongruity. So the next time you’re at a gathering-whether it’s a party, meeting, or luncheon-take a chance. Maintain an otherwise dignified manner, but do something that’s unexpected.|
|10. Tell someone what you laughed about.||There are specific guidelines about this exercise: the stories have to be from your persona! experience, not from T.V., a joke, or a movie; and the stories cannot contain ridicule or teasing. As you tell your stories several delightful things will occur. First, you will learn to speak to others about personal subjects, and to laugh again in the retelling. Second, the listener will also laugh, sharing in the process. Third, he or she will be reminded not only of similar laughable events in their own life, but also how many laughable events do exist!|
|11. Help somebody else laugh.||You probably remember what causes your spouse, your children, and your best friends to laugh. If you notice that one of your children laughed about a riddle the other day, have the child repeat the riddle. Chances are laughter will occur again and you can join in. If you remember a funny story your spouse told you, ask your spouse to tell it to you again and join in with the laughter. Helping people laugh is very different from making people laugh. When we help people laugh, we have already observed what they can laugh about and consider laughable. By having them repeat it, they will laugh again. When we make people laugh, we are controlling what they will laugh about. It is insensitive to assume that others need to laugh. Very often, the truth is that we need to laugh, and we try to get others to laugh so we can join in. By helping people laugh instead of making them laugh, we assure we don’t tread on any toes, hurt any feelings, or act insensitive to their needs.|
|12. Have a family reunion with or without your family.||Getting together with members of our family is a wonderful opportunity to retell the stories that always bring laughter. Every family has a history, and it usually includes embarrassing moments or minor disasters. Often these stories center on holidays, weddings, or other major events.Old photograph albums and old home movies often lead to laughter. It is difficult for visitors to appreciate these family relies, but for the family itself, they often trigger poignant and funny stares.|
|13. Imagine John Hancock…||The act of putting pen to paper is often performed solemnly. This is an area that could stand some laughter. Fortunately, there are suitable ball-point pens available. They are shaped like fruits, vegetables, fish, ice cream canes, and toothpaste tubes. Imagine John Hancock signing the Declaration of Independence with an asparagus pen!|
|14. Do a winking meditation.||Do this with a like-minded friend: Sit on the floor in your meditation posture and look deeply into one another’s eyes. Let your highest thoughts, your most cherished mantras come into your mind. Sit there, looking into each other’s eyes lovingly and meaningfully. Then close one eye. And open it again. Close it… and open it, picking up speed, until the other person catches on.Winking at one another nearly always produces laughter and has become a lost art in need of revival. Add winking to your daily practices and you’ll be giving your spirit the breath of fresh air that it needs.|
|15. Say “Seriously…”||This is the oldest trick in the book for comedians. It always means the opposite. We are so conditioned to hearing the word “seriously” used in this way that it automatically triggers a smile. Try it. Stand in front of a mirror and say, “Seriously now … ” The corners of your mouth will turn up despite themselves. You get a free smile out of it.On an individual level, most of us have private catch-phrases that, when shared with certain friends, will trigger laughter, e.g., “and that’s not funny!“|
|16. Throw a unique party.||If you’re serious about wanting to laugh, organize a slumber party for a few of your friends. Slumber parties are a wonderful tribal ritual-and there’ s no reason to restrict them to girls or the young. We can all afford to step out of our adult dothes and into our jammies for one evening and revert to a less serious age. We need to lighten up, tell secrets, and giggle, and giggling is what slumber parties are all about. (If you are a male, slumber parties might not be a part of your heritage. Instead, you and your boyhood buddies probably had farting contests.)|
|17. Seek out people who laugh.||You might be surprised to discover that the people you spend the most time with are those with whom you laugh the least. We are told that marriage is a very serious business, and so we marry people with whom we seldom laugh. When we interview for jobs, we tend to focus on duties and salaries, and we neglect to observe the atmosphere. The cheerfulness of the environment is an important aspect of any job. If you feel you need to have more laughter in your life, then you may have to venture beyond your family and work and seek out friends who laugh.Think about the changes you’ d make if you oriented your life toward people who laugh. When you’re interviewing for a new job, look around and see if there’s laughter in the workplace. Try to imagine what it would be like to spend most of your life in this atmosphere. If you are single and looking for a partner, listen to the way those prospective men or women laugh. Remember to seek out those people who can laugh.|
|18. Consider a teddy bear.||If you’re going to walk around with a stuffed bear in your arms, you’re going to raise some eyebrows. If you want, you can tell people that it’s for your niece or nephew and let them off the hook. Most won’t care who or what it’s for if they get to hug it and laugh with you.|
|19. Risk looking foolish.||If you make a mistake, play with it. Tum it into an opportunity to laugh with yourself, and invite others to laugh along with you.|
If you want to go a step further-if you’re not afraid of deliberately stepping into the spotlight-then don’t wait for a mistake to happen, but wear or carry something outlandish on purpose. Consider wearing your everyday clothes and then adding one incongruous touch: a carrot-shaped pen, an arrow through your head, or a teddy bear in your bag.
Deely Boppers are also useful in promoting laughter. In case you’ve never seen them, they look like antennae with little pinwheels that spin in the air. You wear them on your head and walk to activate the pinwheels. They make no sense. Put Deely Boppers on your head the next time you’re driving in rush-hour traffic. Let them pop up through the sunroof. Watch the smiles and laughs materialize on the other drivers’ faces.
For those people who prefer less attention, I’d suggest wearing a funny hat or a pair of Deely Boppers around the house. Wear them while vacuuming, cleaning out the garage, or folding the laundry, and see how they affect your attitude.
|20. Have a pillow fight.||Pillow fights are a good way to initiate laughter, especially with children. You can hurt a child far worse with a few well-chosen words than you can with a pillow. By matching the intensity of your blows with those of the child you can insure no one gets hurt. Batacas, which are cloth-covered foam bats, can be used to hit someone harmlessly if the target area is restricted to below the neck.If you want, you can extend this practice to spouses, friends, or work associates.|
|21. Play gigglebelly.||This game goes by many names, and you might remember playing it when you were younger. At a gathering of family or friends, have everyone lie on the floor, on his or her back, with each person’s head resting upon another person’s stomach. It makes for a cozy configuration, although some people might feel uncomfortable with such close contact. But the discomfort is usually temporary, because as soon as one person begins laughing, all of the stomachs and heads in the group start bouncing up and down. To start, the first person says “Ha,” the next one “Ha Ha,” the third “Ha Ha Ha,” and by then the laughter will be rolling. Since the laughter connection is physical as well as emotional, this is a sure-fire method.Typically, the only people who are unable to laugh during gigglebelly are those people who have chosen not to play.|
|22. Appreciate someone.||For whatever reason, our culture is a critical one. We are not accustomed to receiving appreciation, much less giving it. There are many ways to resist a compliment, but if it gets through, laughter may well ensue.|
|23. Add the words “tee-hee”.||Add a simple “tee-hee ” to whatever you take most seriously. Tell your husband: “I have an important board meeting this morning … tee-hee.” Confess to a friend: “My kids are driving me crazy … tee-hee.” Say “Life is terminal … tee-hee.” Or “The Pentagon’s budget … tee-hee.”The “tee-hee ” connects the playful aspects of your brain with the intellectual. It allows you to laugh, and then you can see the bigger picture.|
- Laughter Therapy: How Annette Goodheart Did It
- Video Training Kit: Introduction To Laughter Coaching, as taught by Annette Goodheart, PhD