Today I am going to discuss the value of a good laugh. I will take a leaf out of those self-help books I have seen reviewed, but never bothered to read. I will focus on the positive.
You may have one or several someones in your life that make you laugh; not in a mean and derogatory way, but in a way that makes your life seem lighter for a moment. Cherish the moment, and the person who gave it to you.
“I laugh, therefore I am,” to give the philosopher René Descartes’ famous quote, “I think, therefore I am,” a new spin.
It is safe to say that Descartes was not a fan of alternative facts. He advocated rational thinking: Never accept anything for true, which you don’t clearly know to be such; in other words, unless it has been presented to you so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all doubt. Some would prefer to rewrite the saying to read,”I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am,” to better illustrate Descartes’ meaning.
Rational is fine, I do rational like few others. But I just can’t live with all that doubt. To survive I need more.
Neuroscientist António R. Damasio explains it well. It seems a large part of my brain works to tell my body to do whatever is necessary to keep it going; to keep me warm, healthy, and safe. To cut a few corners and simplify: There is no rationality without emotions and there is no consciousness without a body to be conscious of. Rational decisions do not rely on logic only. They have to include emotions and feelings too, to end up being rational.
After this foray into philosophy and neuroscience I ended up feeling thoroughly exhausted. And decided to coin my own “I laugh, therefore I am.”
To show you where my philosophy ends up I will rewrite it too: “To feel better, I laugh, therefore I am.”
All philosophers who have argued whether Descartes was right or wrong have probably done it for one simple reason. Their need to feel better. To understand, to organise their thoughts, to find rhyme or reason in life.
Others survive with humour as their feel better mechanism. Needless to say, I belong in the latter category.
So let’s look at laughter. You may not know that the study of humour and laughter, and its psychological and physiological effects on the human body, is called gelotology. Brings to mind another favourite of mine – gelato.
But let’s be semi-serious for a while. According to neuroscientist Robert Provine laughter is universal. Everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way whatever their language. Children who are born blind and deaf still retain their ability to laugh.
Studies claim that laughter is far more than merely a response to humour; laughter often works to manage delicate and serious moments. It can help to accomplish actions and regulate relationships.
Laughter condemns ludicrous and eccentric behaviours. Rigidity and inflexibility are a fundamental source of comedy. As a collective activity laughter can have a moral and social role, forcing people to eliminate their vices, French philosopher Henri Bergson notes.
But on a personal level I am all for the good old relief theory advocated by Sigmund Freud and others. To paraphrase another saying; a laugh a day keeps the doctor away.
Laughter boosts our immune system, reduces stress hormones, relieves physical pain, relaxes our muscles, and prevents heart disease, if researchers are to be believed.
It eases anger, anxiety and tension, improves mood, mental functioning and self-esteem.
It strengthens relationships, promotes group bonding, defuses conflict and reduces loneliness.
Now if we were strictly in Descartes´camp we would need more proof, naturally, but I am not.
I like to think that laughter is key to my well-being. At least that way there is a pretty simple key. I don’t need laugh therapy, laugh yoga, or any other external help. I will rely on my nearest and dearest.
My partner in life sometimes tells bad jokes that make me laugh despite their corniness. He defends them by saying that his goal in life is to make me laugh at least ten times each day; even if it means telling bad jokes once in a while.
Who needs roses, a laugh is so much better.
To quote W.H.Auden: “Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh.”
My feature image stars Paquita, the laughing parrot. Her laugh is infectious. You laugh, and then you start to wonder. Is she really laughing? What would there be to laugh about, when you are sitting all day in a cage?
Then again, what better purpose can we have, whether we are birds or humans, than to make others laugh; even if it is just for a fleeting moment, before the doubt sets in.