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Published on: 05/8/17 6:03 AM

Feature: The importance of humour

Laugh your way to joy!

As we celebrate World Laughter Day tomorrow, Sheila Kumar explains how humour has indeed become the best panacea of our times


Can you do a piece to coincide with World Laughter Day, my editor asks me. Much mystified, I go online to dig up some information about World Laughter Day, which apparently has passed me by all these years.
I mean, I was laughing every day, at some point or the other; if I’d known there was a World Laughter Day, I would have set aside a full hour for some intense chortling.

Well, there is indeed a World Laughter Day. It is usually the first Sunday of May, and guess what — it has been up and running (or laughing, if you will forgive this puerile pun) since 1998!

And yes, it is a desi thing, this World Laughter Day; it was created by Dr Madan Kataria, founder of the worldwideLaughter Yogamovement. Dr Madan started the Laughter Yoga movement in part because of the benefits accrued, according to those who know, to a person’s state of mind by the facial expressions they adopt.

It’s the look-joyful and feel-joyful precept. Now, the ambit of the World Laughter Day has expanded to include world peace and raising awareness of a global brotherhood and friendship through laughter.

A global affair

It’s also become a global thing. In 2005, America got onto the bandwagon, and Los Angeles started to celebrate the first Sunday of May as…you guessed it, World Laughter Day. This was the initiative of Sebastien Gendry, creator of theLaughter Wellness method.

So, what do you have to do to celebrate World Laughter Day? Why, it’s simple; you head to the nearest public space (park, anyone?) and gather with other like-minded people with just one motive: to laugh. To laugh hard and long. Before you laugh scornfully at the notion, consider this simple fact: the laughter yoga clubs are growing speedily and have a presence in more than 105 countries now.

Coping mechanism
If you stop and consider it, a strong vein of humour seems inherent in us, desis. We have the aforementioned laughter clubs, wherein people stand about and chuckle, snort, guffaw.

We have jokes section labelled ‘Laughter is the best medicine,’ thus implying that humour will act as a heal-all elixir, that a few laughs a day will keep the doctor away. Be cheerful, we urge stressed people, as if laughter is the wand that will magic the tensions of everyday life away.

This is what I call the Mr Lodge situation. In an Archies comic of yore, I came across a strip where Veronica’s father Mr Lodge is sitting looking at something and laughing, fit to burst his sides. Tears, presumably mirthful, are flowing from his eyes. His butler Smithers comes up gravely beside him, notices Mr Lodge is watching Jughead play loudly, discordantly, on his drums set, and asks, “Why are you laughing, Mr Lodge?” To which the millionaire replies, “Smithers, if I don’t laugh, I shall cry.”

Sound logic, that. Because it is always better to laugh than cry.

Somewhere, most Indians have internalised that creed, because you will find that we laugh more than we cry. This of course, could be attributed to our sense of fatalism or our inherent optimism; whatever, it’s the half-full, half-empty glass syndrome.

But, and I’m talking of the great masses here not the privileged classes, over centuries of unalloyed hard times leavened occasionally by flashes of good times, we have learned that if we can laugh and shrug it off, then things go better.

Give in to humour

What’s not to love about giving in to humour? We get healthier, we stave off stress, we start to feel more positive about ourselves as well as our life situations. We display the best side of ourselves while laughing, and most importantly, even as we laugh, we gain a fresh perspective on life. It’s a coping mechanism, it’s a big reinforcer.

To get into the chemical side of humour, laughing releases endorphins into the brain. Endorphins basically act like thenerve-numbing morphine and reduce the chemicals in the bodythat are released by stress. In medical terms, it’s a long and happy list.

Laughinglowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, and increases muscle flexion. It increases the circulation of antibodies in the blood stream and makes us more resistant to infection. It is the best booster for our emotional health, lowering stress hormones such as adrenaline, cortisone, epinephrine and dopamine.

Laughter also causes deep muscle relaxation. Agood, heartylaughrelieves physical tension and stress, leaving our muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. It ups our appetite for food, life and people. It shows off our more attractive side. It is the greatest social ice-breaker.

Never for a minute can we afford to underestimate the positive power of humour. Studies have showed how a human being immediately experiences a flash of happiness when locked in a hug or when laughing out loud. Interestingly, research shows that while children laugh up to 400 times a day, adults do it only 17 times a day, on average. Ergo, the laughter clubs.

What’s your kind?
Any discussion of humour would be incomplete without mention of the changing nature of general humour today. As times turn more complex, our humour is still the vent-hole of our internal pressure cooker, but it has also become a new kind of humour.

This is not humour that springs from feelings of untrammelled joy or genuine amusement. It is more a sardonic humour, at the things that are happening around us, humour that sometimes expresses annoyance, contempt and scorn. It is the Mr Lodge laugh: you have to laugh simply because the other alternative, of crying, is not an option.

Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there is what is termed ‘relief’ humour. This is a low kind of humour, where the jokes are sexist, misogynistic, racist, and yet people lap it up. But the good thing about tapping this vein of humour, whether highbrow, dark or low, is that in the end, it still brings forth laughter.

We laugh now, and prepare to tackle whatever comes our way later. For the moment, we are relaxed, freshly energised. Our feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, disappointment and discontent dissipate and we gear up our resources. If that isn’t empowerment, what is?

There are those who claim laughter hones our problem-solving skills, fosters communication between human beings, teaches us to live at peace with others and improves our respiratory system. Be that as it all may, laughter is the ultimate mood-enhancer, and for that reason alone, it is quite the best thing we have going.

How does one stay in the humorous zone? We need to surround ourselves with positive people, people with a well-developed sense of humour. We need to learn to recognise and laugh at our own foibles.

We need to indulge our funny bone by watching the funnies on TV, on YouTube, reading P G Wodehouse, Oscar Wilde, Woody Allen. When others burst out laughing, we need to let our inhibitions go and join them. And most importantly, we need to upgrade our capacity for happiness, joy…and yes, humour.

This  was the lead story on SUNDAY HERALD of 8 May 2017.

DH Livinghumourlaughterthe importance of humourWorld Laughter Day

Sheila Kumar • May 8, 2017

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