Sunday, 17 June 2012

Keep the World Laughing!

Keep the world laughing!

“God has a smile on His face “— Psalm 42:5

My Laughter

As I was growing up there was a lot of laughter in my house, my father managed to keep us all laughing and helped me to develop my sense of humour I have today.  It is to my father I am dedicating this blog to say a massive thank you for over many years keeping me laughing and smiling.  HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!!!.

There was a whole lot of laughter amongst my whole family and family get-togethers were a joy to me as a child with my father leading and including everyone with his laughter.  The laughter amongst my aunts and uncles as they remembered their own childhoods touched on mine. 

 How is he funny – well he has a way of telling stories of everyday life in an amusing way,  has a naughty sense of humour of innuendo and manages to both laugh at himself and with others rather than at others finding a sense of fun in most situations.  He loves playing games, both serious and silly and is so competitive it’s ridiculous.  He has dressed up in silly outfits for parties, pantomimes and events, doesn’t mind acting the fool, and has an infectious laugh.   Spending holidays, Christmas and other seasonal occasions with my mum and dad (and later with his new partner) were always very special to me and well looked forward to not just as child but always during my adult life as well - he is genuinely a lovely man to be around or as he would say charming, handsome and debonair!

“All you need in the world is love and laughter. That's all anybody needs. To have love in one hand and laughter in the other.”  August Wilson

Laughter in my marriage life was a little different and I always looked forward to visiting my dad, because it was, and in some ways still is, that I feel the real freedom to laugh with him – those great big belly ache kind of laughs and ones which my son, and even my husband joined in with. My husband had a slapstick kind of humour which sometimes I must admit I did not always appreciate, and as time went on he seemed to find it easier to have fun with other people than with me and later in our married life we found it hard to laugh together at all.    

“What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul” – unknown

After walking away from my marriage, and going through depression, I had to dig down hard in my soul to find the laughter but even during those days there were glimpses of laughter as that was also the year I met many different people particularly from Germany) who also kept the laughter going in me.

“Laughter is the golden sunshine, the rainbow the twinkling stars in the sky but with sunshine comes drought, with a rainbow rain and with stars the scudding clouds can block the view”. – Belinda Federl (aka me!) 

I love having a night out with the girls because laughter is never far off.  I remember times I have laughed so hard it has hurt, literally crying with laughter and I smile at those memories. It’s the laughter and humour that has kept me going during cancer and every Friday night however I felt I usually had someone come round to help me keep laughing – it kept me sane and kept me hopeful.  But I did lose my sense of fun probably because I was too tired and lacking energy, but I now have some of that sense of fun back again – and finding it easier to laugh more every day!

“Honest good humour is the oil and wine of a merry meeting, and there is no jovial companionship equal to that where the jokes are rather small and laughter abundant.” Washington Irving

Relationships and laughter

Research into humour is one of the most fast-growing areas of research – why - because people who are perceived as witty, clever and funny seem destined for popularity, success in work and relationships and seen as balanced peopled.  In business it is important to have people who are motivated and happy.  In one study undertaken 91% of the top executives surveyed considered humour to be important to career advancement.  As an aside, interestingly, research published last year in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour stated that women say what they want most is someone who makes them laugh and men say they want someone whom they can make laugh! 

When laughter is shared, it binds people together, increases happiness and helps keeps our relationships  light, happy and enjoyable.  People are naturally attracted to happy, funny individuals and when you laugh with one another, a positive bond is created. This bond acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, and disappointment. And yes laughter really can be contagious - just hearing laughter primes your brain to smile and join in the fun.   

“Every blessed one of you feels better for that burst of laughter” -Ivor Novello

As our health and happiness depend to a certain extent on the quality of our relationships, laughter can smooth over differences, help you approach sensitive subjects, resolve disagreements and bring perspective our problems.   Although my blog also looks at what makes us laugh most of the humour we encounter is on a day-to-day basis and comes from our spontaneous interactions with others, whether it’s a witty comment, a funny story or an amusing situation. A study has shown that adults on average laugh about 17 times a day compared to children who laugh about 400 times a day.

Today my son and I undertook a big shop and needed a taxi home.  The taxi driver insisted on tying up each of the plastic bags to ensure nothing fell about in his boot – unfortunately he didn’t take the same care with the cat litter and put it near a sharp object - he ended up with lots of bits of gravel in his boot.  After rushing to get him a dustpan and brush we both had a giggle finding the situation amusing – obviously not for the taxi driver who spent a good half-hour clearing out his boot, but definitely for us!

“Something is funny because it captures a moment, it contains an element of simple truth, it is something that we have always known for eternity and yet are hearing it now out loud for the first time. “

What makes me laugh

What makes me laugh and tickles my funny bone is probably not the same as yours - as we all have a different sense of humour - but it is so great when I meet someone who laughs at the same things as I do.  The extent to which a person will find something humorous depends upon a host of variables, including geographical location, culture, maturity, level of education, intelligence and context.  And laughter is seriously a complex subject but yet such a natural, simple and usually positive emotion often conveying meaning more effectively than words.  Some believe that after crying, laughter is the next big communicative milestone in human development and evolves from a baby's giggle into a social tool.

However, many believe that humour cannot or should not be explained - which does make sense – try dissecting a funny joke and it becomes no longer funny and/or loses its impact.

"Humour can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind."  - Author E.B. White

Not everyone may find Rowan Atkinson funny as Mr Bean (although there are a lot of people out there who do!).  He explains that an object or a person can become funny in three ways -by behaving in an unusual way, being in an unusual place or by being the wrong size; and the easiest way to make things laughable is to exaggerate to the point of absurdity their salient traits.
My father told me that he learned quickly that being funny got him out of many a sticky situation, and having being bullied as teenager he had to either learn to fight back or make them laugh – he chose laughter.

Who would have thought that on a family get together as a child a budgie could make us all laugh so much we were all crying with great big belly ache laughter – literally splitting our sides! 
I often have to try not to laugh in Church and have to supress that laughter – it might be that it is because it’s a solemn occasion with the expectation to stay quiet, still and spiritual, and then someone sings off key, or does something unexpected, but whatever it is holding in the laughter makes me giggle more and its infectious!  

I particularly like political, innuendo and observational humour – but really lots of different things can make me laugh, and there are so many different ways to laugh too.

Different kinds of laughs

Belly- ache laugh: open and trustworthy; Giggling, chuckling, tittering: laughing nervously, braying: laughing  loudly and harshly:  convulsive: laugh loudly and in an unrestrained way; and then there is guffawing, laughing boisterously, howling, roaring and heartily.  There is the soft, pleasant laughter of an infant,  vulgar and obscene laughter,  superficial and polite laughter,  the loud laughter of a child, mild and appreciative laughter;  loud uproarious laughter;  horse-like laughter; and derogatory laughter just to name a few.  How many different types of laughter have you noticed - you may think of some that are not mentioned here?

Although different people laugh in different ways most of the time we can detect a genuine laugh from the heart to those which are uncontrolled, suppressed, nervous, sarcastic, etc.  Though there are many ways to laugh, only about 90% of our laughter is related to jokes or humour and that you are more likely to laugh with friends or colleagues than by yourself. Laughing is usually a social activity.

A laugh is a smile that bursts.”  Mary H. Waldrip quotes

What makes us laugh

The term Humour derives from the humoral medicine of the ancient Greeks, which taught that the balance of fluids in the human body, known as humors (Latin: humor, "body fluid"), control human health and emotion.  Today Humour tends to describe cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement.  The word Comedy comes from the Greek:  these days meaning any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy.  The ancient original meaning of the word comedy was merely a dramatic play that was the opposite of tragedy.

We find something funny because it is expected, it is unexpected or has a twist, it is familiar, and is unfamiliar.

 “The more you know humour, the more you become demanding in fineness” - Georg Lichtenberg“

So here goes a list of comedy (and it’s not a completely exhaustive list to that either!).  I could have gone in much greater detail here, but in the interest of not making my blog to long (!) ……. :)

  • Slapstick & physical comedy – Pies in faces, slipping and sliding, falling etc.  The Three Stooges. Charlie Chaplin Norman Wisdom Chevy Chase.  We also tend to laugh at each other when we unexpectedly fall over, slip or get wet etc.

  • Parody & spoof - mocks or makes fun of an original work - movies and TV shows - Airplane - or on mannerisms such as mimicking the upper class society.  Spoof is light parody or gentle imitation.

  •  Satire & Irony - where a section of society or politics are mocked and directs criticism at human weakness and shortcomings. Satire is often meant to be funny, but not necessary the purpose of it.  Irony is the opposite of what is expected to happen or where someone says the opposite of what they mean.

 “If we ever travel thousands of light years to a planet inhabited by intelligent life let’s just make patterns in their crops and leave!- Unknown     

“Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They are about to announce the lottery numbers.”  - Homer Simpson

  • Sarcasm  & Put-Down,  biting humour -  where an insult or quick remark is fired at someone with the intention of causing pain or it can be self-deprecating: If it is directed against a politician it can been seen as funny but if directed towards an individual particularly those close to you can take its toll on personal relationships.  A common response to this kind of humour when challenged is “just kidding”.

 J.F.K. and his brothers would often invite a hated acquaintance to vacation with them; they'd be polite to his face, but behind his back, the brothers would unite in deriding the hapless guest.

“He who laughs last didn't get it”  Helen Giangregorio quotes“

  • Farce & screwball comedy - where comedy is achieved through exaggeration and extreme characters in bizarre, surprising (and improbable) situations that seem to spiral out of control and become ever more ludicrous.  Often used in sitcoms, or situation comedies

 Recently my rescue cat – Dave - who we have only just got, managed to escape through the kitchen window (although I don’t know how) and I went round my block of flats shaking a box of cat biscuits calling out his name.  A couple of cats started following me, one of them all the way round the block of flats with me.  When my son was retelling this story it turned into the cats in the whole neighbourhood! (Oh yes, just in case you are wondering, I did find him.)

  • Black comedy - dark comedy where a light humoured touch is applied to serious subject matter such as sex, race, violence or other depressing situations in order to ease the pain or make some specific point or used to going against social conventions or taboos in comic ways (MASH).

“Cancer is probably the most unfunny thing in the world, but I’m a comedian, and even cancer couldn’t stop me from seeing the humour in what I went through. “— Gilda Radner

“To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it”. — Charlie Chaplin

An American friend told me she used humour when going through anal cancer treatment “my ass was going to get radiation and radiation is known to be hot and that I would therefore be "A hot piece of Ass" for a while!”

  • Surrealism - throwing together completely disjointed concepts and random ideas to weave together something bizarre.

Remember: Do not Insult the Alligator till after you cross the river.

  • Mock epic and travesty - where something very trivial is treated as if it were high and important on a grand scale; Travesty is the opposite.

“Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.”

  • Double entendre & Blue humour - Typically British 'saucy postcard kind of humour: unsubtle humour often marked by coarse jokes and sexual situations and innuendo.  

The name blue humour is said to derive from the 18th century use to morally strict standards — hence the phrase “blue laws” referring to restricting certain behaviour on the Sabbath.  

  • Stereotypes - where we immediately recognise a character and so we are familiar with what sort of person this is without too much information needing to be given. 

Always remember you are unique, just like everyone else. “ – Unknown

  • The infectious wisdom of the fool:  A wrong opinion is expressed and catches on with others. Often a wise person will say something and a fool will hear it and misinterpret it loudly. A second fool hears it and agrees and so the wise person then has to race about correcting it to prevent the foolishness from spreading.

As sent by a friend on Facebook:-

1. You cannot stick your tongue out and look up at the ceiling at the same time, a physical impossibility due to the tendons within your neck. 2. All idiots, after reading 1 will try it. 3. And discover #1 is a lie. 4. You are smiling now because you are an idiot. 5. You soon will forward this to another idiots. 6. There is still a stupid smile on your face.

Timing is the most mysterious part and important in expressing humour. A small pause comes into play to enhance a joke... either/and before and after the punch line to enable a reaction and to build up an expectation.  Timing can is important even if you don’t intend it to be!

“I have opinions of my own -- strong opinions -- but I don’t always agree with them. “- George Bush

People often talk of high/highbrow comedy and low comedy. High comedy is seen as intellectual wit, using cultured, sophisticated themes:  and low humour being comedy that uses coarse language, slapstick and farce.

We all know people who are fun to have around; saying amusing things, tell jokes, engage in witty banter and generally lighten the mood.  They are perceived to be warm, down-to-earth and kind, and able to laugh at their own faults (my father is definitely a person like this!). This is called bonding humour.  Also used in Stand-up comedy where the comedian needs to get the audience on their side and although they may use several types of humour (including anecdotal personal stories that may be true or partly true but embellished) we are still bonded together with the comedian to make us laugh.
“A sense of humour... is needed armour. Joy in one's heart and some laughter on one's lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life. “ - Hugh Sidey

 Health benefits of laughter

“Your body cannot heal without play. Your mind cannot heal without laughter. Your soul cannot heal without joy.” — Catherine Rippenger Fenwick

Now we are coming to the crux of my blog.  There is an on-going debate amongst the medical profession of the benefits of laughter on both our physical and mental health  and there has been a lot of research already done in this area, and is continuing to be done. If we’re able to see the funny side of life’s problems, we are less likely to become distressed, overwhelmed, anxious and depressed by them.  These days we need all the laughter we can get with the news being full of economic nightmares, doom and gloom, wars, disease, and more.

“Laughter is the shock absorber that eases the blows of life” – Unknown

Studies show that people who laugh more often get sick less producing healthy physical and mental changes in the body:

  • Reduces cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones, protecting you from the damaging effects of stress, and reduces blood pressure
  • Strengthens and increases the immune system by increasing the release of interferon cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease - also increases the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T cells, leading to a stronger immune system.
  • Triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals minutes after laughter promoting an overall sense of well-being.  A good hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes. 
  • Boosts your energy, making you feel relaxed and energised at the same time, relieving tiredness while recharging your batteries helping you accomplish more and improving the oxygen flow to the brain
  • Can temporarily relieve and diminish pain   
  •  Protects the heart by improving the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
  • Maciej Buchowski, a researcher with Vanderbilt University, conducted a unique study and proved that 10-15 minutes of concentrated laughter burns off 50 calories.  (Yeah I'm going on a laughter diet!)

“Laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine. “ — Lord Byron

So laughter can be strong medicine for both the body and the mind. It helps you to stay balanced, energetic, joyful, and healthy.  

"A cheerful heart does good medicine, but a broken spirit makes you sick".  - Book of Proverbs 17.22

Keep yourself and the World Laughing

But what is laughter, what is its purpose and are humans truly the only creatures with the ability to laugh? Can we learn to have a good sense of humour and how do we keep on laughing?
According to Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Robert R Provine, a laughter expert, studying chimp behaviour, believes that their play-panting is the starting block of human laughter and that it evolved into the 'ha-ha' sound we make today.  He even found that rats can laugh when tickling them (who would want to tickle rats?!). They made chirping noises different to the usual noises they made (and even made signs they wanted to be tickled further when it stopped), although he has been careful not to categorically say this this laughter.

"A lot of people don't like that word. Giving human qualities to animals is a no-no, since we are closer to the angels than the other creatures of the world,"  - Robert Provine

I am sure my cats laugh!

But can people learn humour? May be you can no more teach yourself to be witty than you can teach yourself to fall in love. Maybe a sense of humour is akin to a sense of rhythm: You either got it or you aren’t? But we are all born with the physical ability to laugh, and the capacity to utilise it as a social tool is something we learn as we mature developing our own sense of humour.  

When the human brain develops into adulthood, studies suggest, we learn to appreciate different kinds of humour, which are processed in different parts of the brain. If people find a joke funny, it the "funny zone" in the brain: the medial ventral prefrontal cortex that lights up. The funnier a joke is found to be, the more that area of the brain lights up like a pinball machine.

"They all laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian. They're not laughing now ..."  - Bob Monkhouse

Much of our humour, as mentioned before, is learned through a variety of factors, including geographical location, culture, and maturity, level of education, intelligence and context.  But we can further develop our humour and encourage our laughter wherever we are.  Here are just a few examples of what you can do.

  • Reading funny books, comics, watching TV shows that you make you laugh (I love the Graham Norton show!).
  • Go and see a stand-up comic, a funny play, visit a comedy club
  • Be with people who make you laugh through social interaction
  • Try laughter meditation, consisting of stretching, laughing, and silence. It can transform your energy and mood.
  • Join a laughter club or a laughter yoga class or form your own laughter therapy group and laugh yourself healthy! Apparently Laughing 100 (ha-ha-etc.) times a day gives the same cardiac workout as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise.  By playfully imitating breathing and sounds of laughter, until simulated laughter can turn into the real thing.  (Be warned I have been to a 15 minute workshop on laughter and I came out exhausted but happy!)

 “Laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.” -  Norman Cousins

Once we are laughing can we spread our laughter to others?  Well laughter can certainly be contagious! Researchers at the University College of London found that the brain responds to the sound of laughter by preparing the muscles in the face to laugh and smile. You can see this at work where in live recorded sitcoms people are paid to sit in the audiences because of their particular type of laugh which has proved to be infectious. This is called trigger laughter. Our mirror neurons trigger humour by hearing others laugh. Just like yawning, but more fun. It seems obvious really - how many times have you burst into uncontrollable giggles just because someone else started to laugh? We rarely laugh when we are not with other people, and most of the things we laugh at have to do with other people - so the purpose of laughter is about how we communicate with others and is inherently social.

 “A smile starts on the lips, a grin spreads to the eyes, a chuckle comes from the belly; but a good laugh bursts forth from the soul, 0verflows, and bubbles all around.” – Carolyn Birmingham

 World Laughter Day

Did you know there is a World Laughter Day? It’s usually celebrated on the first Sunday of May every year (missed it this year, reminder to put it into diary next year!) and is celebrated in more than 70 countries around the world. The mission for World Laughter day is to bring Good health, Joy and World Peace affirmed by thousands of people gathered to promote the benefits of unconditional laughter.  This means huge waves of laughter and positive energy being sent out around the world. I like this idea!

World Laughter Day was the brain child of Dr Kataria who started this through Laughter Yoga organisations, and started in in 1995 with just 5 people.  Laughter Yoga  allows people to practice laughter without depending upon outside conditions and reasons of life. It does not require a sense of humour, nor do you have to be happy to participate. It combines playful exercises with yoga breathing.

Below are some Yoga Laughter exercises you can do by yourself or with others. 

I believe that laughter is a language of God and that we can all live happily ever laughter.  Yakov Smirnoff

The Archer - Stand with your legs shoulder width apart and arms held out level from side to side. Reach with your right arm and touch your left hand. Close your hands as if holding a bow and yell HA! Your head should look at your left hand. Pull back with your right hand to your left elbow, left arm still straight and yell HA again. Pull your right hand back to touch your left shoulder, and "releasing the arrow," yell HA once more. Straighten out your right arm to the side, throw your head back and have a belly laugh. Once on each side is a set.  Start with 5 sets (5 arrows drawn and released on each side), and work up to 10.

The Group Swing - Stand in a circle (if you're by yourself, imagine you're in a circle of people), and reach forward as if picking up a package while saying the vowels softly at first then louder as you straighten your body, lift your "package" over your head and burst out laughing. Everyone can also run towards the centre of the circle, as if showing off your "packages" and laugh when you reach the centre. By yourself, run towards a point in the back yard or a chair in the living room.

Lion King - This promotes blood flow to the thyroid gland, exercises the face and neck muscles and definitely inspires more laughter. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Raise your hands like paws. Open your mouth as wide as you can, stick your tongue out as far as it will go and open your eyes as wide as you can. Now laugh as hard as you can. Walk around laughing like this and move your body like lion. Do this for about a minute, then let your face relax. Get the kids to join in and enjoy yourself even more!

Lottery Winner - Imagine you just won the 20 Million Dollar Lottery! Only ONE set of numbers hit, and they were YOURS! Laugh, howl, jump up and down, wave your arms, hug each other and celebrate. Try to keep it up for a minute each day, then two minutes the following week. This is truly energizing.

Choo Choo - It sounds cute, and it's fun. Using the sounds of the vowels, start out with ha-ha-ha-ha, while taking a step and holding your arms at a 45 degree angle, imaging you're a train. Hee-hee-hee-hee a little faster. Go through all the vowels and travel like a train, finally cracking up laughing at the end.  A entire group can do say travel around the work building. People will join in just because it's fun. If people come up to see "what's so funny," laugh again. It's funny to see people confused when all you're doing is laughing, and they expect to hear a rational explanation for the guffaws and giggles. Get them to join the group. Laughter is infectious and doesn't need a vaccine.

[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

The next time someone around you starts to laugh or you feel your mouth involuntarily rise at the corners, and a deep chuckle bubbling up, don’t hold back let it rip and enjoy the positive elements both to our physical and mental health that come from laughter.   Keep the word laughing!

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