Laughter is powerful, comes in many flavors and that’s all good. Ultimately, if you are laughing you are laughing. What took you there doesn’t really matter anymore. Or does it?
It has been my experience over the years that there are many levels of benefits one can get from laughter that are far beyond the physical, and what got you to laugh in the first place does matter.
This article discusses a personal opinion on humor vs. intentional laughter.
Humor (a mind-body approach to laughter) is a powerful, very entertaining, and potentially wonderful addition to your daily life yet it has five big limitations if you want to benefit from laughter on a daily basis:
- Humor is short lived. A good joke will make you laugh for a few seconds at best, not hours. What do you do then if you want to laugh heartily every day?
- Humor is hard to sustain. Humor requires an element of surprise to work, which means that you need to be constantly looking for new material if you want to laugh daily. It also requires memory and wit, and not everybody has those.
- Humor is cultural. We do not all relate to the same jokes (1), not to mention the problem of language. How can you laugh that way with people of a different culture who do not speak your language?
- Humor tends to be “horizontal” and take something away. I personally identify two types of humor: “vertical” and “horizontal”. “Vertical” humor is good and rare. It plays on incongruity and is aimed at nobody and nothing in particular (2). Most forms of humor today are not “vertical” though but “horizontal”, usually with a downward slant: it’s about sarcasm or ridicule and takes something away from the party being laughed at. Here is why this is an issue: the greatest illusion of this world is the idea of separation, that what happens to you cannot and will not impact me. This is not the case. You would never treat the earth or your possessions, and certainly not other people, the way that you do if you thought that those people and those things were you, and you were them. If you thought you were doing to yourself what you do to others, many — perhaps most — of your behaviors would fall away.
- Humor is about “it” not “you”. Humor is safe because you get to choose to laugh or not. It may make you feel good, but it won’t commit you to change. Why can’t we just laugh together, just because, out of a sense of complicity or intimacy? Some go as far as arguing that popular humor (not all, thank goodness) has become a form of aggression (3). They say that the ability to make others laugh confers a degree of control which dominant people are prone to exploit to show they are in charge.
A different approach
Choosing to laugh as a form of exercise on the other hand is free from these limitations:
- The duration and intensity of your laughter is entirely up to you. You can laugh when you want to for however long you desire and your strength allows. Some people laugh daily for up to 3 hours at a time (4)!
- It is always new, always fresh. Laughter has no choreography therefore every single laugh is a success. It’s irrational, illogical and unreasonable and as such it is deliciously out of control because it feels good yet you don’t know where it’s going.
- It is universal. Everybody can laugh. There is nothing to explain and nothing to understand.
- It adds value to people’s lives. Laughing as a form of exercise is a powerful way to build and strengthen your self-image because it forces you to feel good in the present moment as you are, in all your glory and imperfections, without to even have to think about it. It’s about strength, not courage, because it’s about letting go. The here and now is a place of perfect equilibrium where the past is gone – ashes are ashes – and the future is not yet born. It’s a field of pure potential because it’s both empty and full, the beginning and the end. Feeling good about yourself is important because the starting point for both success and happiness is a healthy self-image. You cannot consistently perform in a manner that is inconsistent with the way your see yourself.
- It is very empowering. Choosing to laugh helps to make you feel connected with and fully accepted by the people you laugh with, because it’s beyond the mind and your body can’t think. It’s a form of communication where we’re sharing something and there is no judgment. It’s also an easy way to become more positive because it teaches that there is no hard link between event and emotions. Nerve impulses are just that. They have no meaning of their own. The fact that you’ve lost your keys for example does not mean you have to feel stressed. That’s a choice. You could laugh instead if you wanted to. Laughter exercises allow you to positively vocalize your stress without having to verbalize it. What more do you want?
Therapeutic approaches to laughter such as Laughter Wellness and Laughter Yoga offer a unique form of exercise where anybody can laugh for no reason and great benefits. They teach you that you don’t need to be in a good mood, fit, healthy, or have a sense of humor to laugh. Participants typically start their practice in a group with a series of intentional laughter, breathing and other joyful exercises and that laughter rapidly becomes real and contagious. Laughter is healthy, always within reach, and really good for you. Thousands of scientific studies over the past three decades all suggest that laughter has substantial preventive and therapeutic benefits. It is genuinely a powerful form of complementary medicine.
Allow me to add
This article is not intended as a direct attack to the world of humor. We live in a world that desperately needs to lighten up. There are many ways to lighten up, and all have something of value to offer. Something is always better than nothing.
This is not a call to modify any behavior either, but rather an invitation to reconsider why you laugh when you do.
It is not the movements but rather the energy behind the movements that are really important.
If wearing a clown nose makes you laugh this is wonderful. Keep wearing it. Just don’t label yourself as funny in your own head. Make it fun. Wear it because you like it and would be equally entertained if you were the only one to ever know about it. Do it for you, not because you think it is going to make others laugh. I saw Patch Adams do that once in his clown outfit with a rubber chicken in an Afghani field hospital filled with mutilated and severely injured children. He was being himself, the whole of him, simply sharing himself and he was beaming, a true lightning rod, a messenger of hope.
If you want to add more laughter into your life, stop asking why. Just do it. And stay true to yourself and who you are.
(1) Read the article “World’s funniest joke unveiled”.
(2) A great resource for vertical humor is http://www.laughteryogaamerica.com/4fun/mind-body
(3) Read more on humor as a form of aggression at http://goo.gl/KzNpE
(4) The Mystic Rose Meditation is a three-week process involving intentional laughter, tears and silence. The first week involves three hours of daily laughing, non-stop and for no reason, starting with a Yahoo! The second week is for crying, also non-stop for three full hours; and the third week is for active silence. Thousands participated over the following years. It is still offered every month at the Osho International Meditation Resort (http://lou.pm/osho) in Pune, India, and at other places around the world.