“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will I will go to it laughing” –Herman Melville
Fifteen facial muscles, the lifting of the upper lip, the half closing of the larynx, and in times of extreme mirth, the flooding of the tear ducts and flushing of the face.
There is great power in laughter. It enables us to adjust perspective. It enables us to relate to the rest of life’s content–society, relationships, trials, and celebrations. When laughter is summoned, it enters the room as both assertive and influential. Laughter builds and can imitate courage. Laughter can eclipse mental and physical capacities, and it leaves little room for whatever worries had previously pitched tents in your head.
Laughter can blow them all away. In this article, I divide the discussion of laughter into two parts: 1) The physical and 2) The personal and social. I hope that after you read it, it makes you believe in the power of laughter. Or if you read it and doubt, I hope it at least makes you laugh.
Benefits of Laughter
No matter how cynical the MD, there is not a scientist on earth who refutes the health benefits of laughter–whether they attribute those benefits to a causal or correlative relationship. Physically speaking, the results of a strong bout of laughter are similar to a short workout: An elevated heart rate and a brain flooded with the kinds of chemicals that make you feel happy and capable. During laughter, calories are burned, and blood vessels expand and contract to effectively move oxygen throughout the body. Studies show that individuals who laugh frequently have stronger immune systems, experience higher-quality sleep, and have an easier time relaxing when enduring either physical or mental stress. These benefits exist primarily because laughter decreases cortisol (the stress hormone) and boosts T cell counts (the type of cell that combats illness in the body).
Those who laugh frequently are also less likely to be overweight and may find it easier to maintain a healthy body weight. Science ties these benefits to two causes: The first is that laughter burns calories and stimulates circulation. The second is that those who laugh more frequently also process sugar more efficiently. Above all, laughter compels your brain to block pain and induce pleasure at the chemical level–by the surging release of endorphins. And an important note: Laughter has both short-term and long-term health benefits, so in the name of your future self, add more laughter to your life now!
Social and Personal
“Humanity has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” — Mark Twain
In early modern history, the kings of England had joke tellers (jesters) who stayed by the king’s side in court and whose sole job description was, despite the wars, civil disputes, and prisoners in the midst of a mutiny, to make the king laugh. For if you can still laugh, what else matters that much? Probably not much. Well, to revise, not much matters to you.
Mark Twain once made the compelling, and perhaps romanticized, claim that nothing can stand against the assault of laughter (see above quote). In other words, when confronted with laughter, adversaries fall to the ground becoming weakened and of no consequence. Is this mighty claim romanticized, or is the writer formerly known as Samuel Clemens on to something? First and foremost, if the clock is ticking until you might meet your maker and you have seconds to make a decision, taking time to tell jokes may not be in the best interest of longevity.
But, if you are experiencing pain, stress, or pressure, will laughter adjust your mental perspective, begin blocking the pain at the physical level, and perhaps frighten your enemies who at this point don’t know what you could possibly be thinking? As noted above, the science would say: Absolutely. Will it assist you in stepping back and gaining the perspective that your social problems, your bad hair, your adversary, no matter the size, is not actually very menacing–and great material for that stand-up sketch you’ve been waiting to write? Yes. Oui.
As a social tool, laughter is quite the mover of power. In the beginning of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette, two young men from warring houses use humor to taunt each other, and for those who know the story, it causes significant problems, including death. For laughing at another is not something humanity takes lightly. Perhaps this is why Disney villains Ursula and Maleficent throw their heads back and laugh hard when they have a good plan. Perhaps this is why Kim Jong-un laughs as he watches missiles launch.
Laughter is not only meant for those with good intentions, it is meant for those who are experiencing personal joy, which in times of conflict, has significant meaning. Additionally, when it comes to social freedom, aren’t individuals who laugh at absolutely everything very difficult to control? In the conflict-ridden arena of high school, wasn’t the one who was the best at laughing also one of the most socially effective?
Laughter asserts individuality, and the power of the personal world, the one where laughter is born. The flip side of laughter as a social tool is that although laughter can summon power and draw lines around your individuality, laughter is also a tool for human bonding and is undoubtedly is contagious. Humans seek laughter with another as reassurance of connection. As reassurance of belonging. As reassurance that things are good. When one desires friendship with another, the closest bridge between them is laughter. For these reasons, laughter is both a way to stand alone and a way to stand with someone.
“He doesn’t have to say that the earth has turned scarlet through fierce belief, after centuries of heartbreak and laughter–he perches on the blue bowl of the sky, and laughs”. –Joy Harjo
In the end, we know that Cicero was a practical joker, the ancient Egyptians expressed humor in hieroglyphics, and Homer attributed humor to the gods. Why? Because laughter is a critical part of the human experience. To flood the brain with endorphins, strengthen social bonds, and make the burdens of life drop in weight class. Also to create a safe space in your head, where, when it comes to you, anything in life can be funny instead of hurtful. It’s your own personal coping mechanism that you share with no one. And a social-emotive and motivator. If someone is still laughing, they have not been beaten yet. If someone is laughing, those not laughing have lost their emotional consequence. Maybe this is what Mark Twain meant. So next time you have a bad day, and the world is against you, for the sake of your health, happiness, and to strengthen your spirit, throw your head back, and laugh all the way to the next one. It’s healthy.
Why did the turtle cross the road? Because it was the chicken’s day off.
Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road? Because he didn’t have the guts.
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side. 🙂
Also by Anastasia: 13 Books to Read When You Need a Female Hero
Related: I Tried It: Laughter Yoga
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Photo: Priscilla Westra via Unsplash