Much of the healing I’ve experienced in my life, has come from laughter. We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine and there are a wealth of documented stories of how laughing has had the incredible power to heal. Dr. Norman Cousins is perhaps laughter’s most well-known advocate, writing about it in his classic book Anatomy of an Illness.
After being told he had a life threatening illness with little chance of recovery, he created his own healing programme, incorporating large doses of Vitamin C with daily bouts of laughter, compliments of old Marx Brothers movies. For me as well, I truly believe that my sense of humour (albeit rather off-beat or quirky at times) just might have saved my life. And more than once.
My Father the Storyteller
As I’ve written about in my piece Lessons My Father Taught Me, my father Louis was an enormously gifted storyteller. He had a magical ability to combine tone, impeccable timing and expression, with his rich sense of detail, allowing him to re-tell long and involved comedic pieces. He’d immediately capture the attention of those listening and had them laughing hysterically by the end of each one of his stories.
Although generally a quiet and gentle man, he had a great sense of humour and really came alive when telling stories. A favourite of his was Myron Cohen, a popular storyteller comedian of the day.
My mother Lil has a great sense of humour, but on her own, she isn’t really funny. She’s the kind of listener that my father and I need because they bring laughter to the equation. I’m sure her success at aging gracefully is due in large part to her ability to laugh and often.
Inheriting a Sense of Humour
I’d like to believe I’ve inherited some of my father’s storytelling abilities and sense of humour. For me, the juice, the meat of life is in the stories. People remember stories much more vividly than they remember facts according to Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future. My stories are simply my personal way of looking at life, observing the world around me and seeing both the idiosyncrasies and absurdities, yet the connectedness we share as human beings.
These are the kind of comedians or storytellers I’ve always been drawn to as well. Those who use humour to expose the human condition through their incredible use of language. George Carlin is an all-time favorite of mine. Carlin was a brilliant wordsmith. Chris Rock — I adore him, too. Both observe the world and dare to talk about often taboo topics, like sex, politics, religion and much more. Even Woody Allen movies at their best, are stories I relate to and always make me laugh.
Humour in Everyday Life
Somehow, I’ve always seen the humour in the things happening both around me and to me. And at times, in my most dire of situations, I’d make others laugh, shifting the mood or breaking the tension. Although I can be a serious person, I don’t stay there too long. Generally, I see something funny in almost everything.
It’s fascinating for me to observe what actually makes other people laugh. When I saw Ellen Degeneres speak live at a women’s event, she affirmed that her humour is based on kindness and compassion, not at someone else’s expense. This is the kind of humour that appeals to me too. Often my humour is self-deprecating, at my own personal expense, but I’m OK with that if others see the humour and laugh along with me.
My daughter Lani and I share the most incredible and often outrageous bouts of laughter together, sometimes started from some seemingly ridiculous or innocent comment or observation. Often, others have absolutely no idea what we’re laughing about, but they start laughing just because our joy is contagious. One of the innocent results of laughter is that you can spread it quickly. And in a tough economy, it’s free.
Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician in Mumbai, India started laughter clubs in 1995 because he saw that laughter can act like “a benevolent virus that can infect individuals, communities and nations.” There are thousands of laughter clubs in more than 100 countries around the world now.
The premise: small groups of people get together regularly to laugh. Just because. Their goal is thought-free laughter. There’s no setup. No premise. No jokes. The result: pure laughter. As Kataria has said, “When you are playful, you are activating the right side of your brain. The logical brain is a limited brain. The right side is unlimited. You can be anything you want.” He sees laughter as a possible path to world peace. I too am on this path.
Neuroscientists have also shown that it is our right brain hemisphere that plays an essential role in understanding and appreciating humour. Thank goodness for this.
Although, I’ve rarely met people who have no sense of humour at all, I admit it can be unsettling when I do. Perplexing, to be honest. I wonder what it takes to get through to them. Will anything make them laugh? Since my personal goal is to get at least a small laugh or smile from those I encounter, humorless people mystify me.
Health Benefits of Laughter
Smiling, laughing and humour promote the release of endorphins, which is a very healthy for us. Laughing, like smiling, decreases stress hormones and boosts the immune system. It also has great benefits for the cardiovascular system, as it increases your heart rate, pumping more blood to the internal organs. Laughter can be a natural way to relieve pain. Laughter helps us release tension, much like sneezing or orgasm does.
Laughing, as my daughter and I have found, is a great social activity too. In the same way as storytelling, laughter is more about relationships than about jokes. I’ve heard that people rarely laugh alone, although I admit that I do. Because laughter is a form of non-verbal communication, it can convey empathy.
Children are Laughter Champions
Children have been reported to laugh up to 300 times a day, yet adults less than 20. As with smiling, kids are far ahead of us adults in their expression of joy. Humour is definitely a transformational tool.
Through humour and laughter, we can bring about healing, celebration, love and compassion. Humorist Steve Bhaerman (aka Swami Beyondananda) says that God says we are all funny, but we just don’t know it yet.
Laughing at Ourselves
By laughing at myself, it somehow has the ability to liberate others. Humour becomes a catalyst. When I was ill, humour was one of the things that helped save my life, over and over again. For sure it has given me rich stories to share with others, stories which ultimately became the substance of my book Confessions of a Middle-Aged Hippie. People seem to identify with these stories, so I can only hope this brings a little bit of lightness to them or their situation. Perhaps even a bit of hope in a new possibility.
Because one of my philosophies is, “Hope, Humour, Life”, I’m delighted when people tell me that somehow my humour and stories have brought a smile or laugh to their day. For me, a great sense of humour is a really big turn-on and one of the most attractive things in another person. After all, who would laugh with me otherwise?
Laughter is a Healthy Lifestyle Choice
In my post Health is Truly a Matter of Choice(s), I shared that all of our lifestyle choices contribute to our health. Laughter is definitely a healthy lifestyle choice. As a Health and Vitality Consultant, I see how even simple changes can make a huge difference in how people feel. This is why I work directly with you to prepare a personal plan to address your health concerns.
It’s easy to get started. Begin with the True Health Assessment which only takes 10 minutes. You’ll receive a personalized report in three sections. The first identifies your top health risk factors. The second maps out a recommended lifestyle plan that identifies ways you can improve your health. The third provides you with individualized nutrition recommendations based on your specific assessment answers. After this, we’ll set up a time to talk. Wishing you good health and lots of laughter…
How does humour and laughter influence your life?