I believe in laughter. And my belief in it is serious business. I believe in laughter’s capacity to heal us, not just as individuals but also as a world community.
I’m a social-scientist. I study emotions. Until a recent trip to India, I can’t say that I believed in too many things. Empirical validation is my stock-in-trade.
Then, in India, I learned something deep and profound. I learned how to laugh for no reason. Dr. Madan Kataria taught me, in very practical terms, the wisdom of a proposal that the great philosopher William James once made – that “motion creates emotion.” I learned a series of laughter exercises and before I knew it, laughter was bubbling up out of me in the purest, most joyful way.
Dr. Kataria started a “laughter club” in a public park in Bombay 10 years ago. Now, he teaches others how to “fake it til they make it” and sends them off to start their own clubs all over the world.
And laughter is no joking matter. Science has begun to demonstrate its positive physical effects. By increasing oxygenation, laughter has been shown to improve our mood and boost our immune system.
But it’s the spiritual benefits of laughter that I believe in.
Open, smiling faces draw us in. Think of the face we make when we talk to a baby. It’s wide-eyed, and open-mouthed. A laugh-face is the welcome we give to the newest members of the human race. “Hi honey!” we say. “Hi sweetie!” And when those new members give us their first laugh back, nothing ever felt so good.
I’ve found that most adults are reluctant at first to “laugh for no reason.” But once they’ve tasted its joys, like me, they’re hooked. I think that’s because a crowd of laughers clapping and chanting “ho, ho, ha ha ha!” is irresistible. We get face-contact of the kind we probably remember from those earliest days. Smiley-eyed, ridiculous, open-mouthed faces again, drawing us in. Embarrassments evaporate. Troubles are forgotten.
But most importantly, laughing puts us intensely in the moment. So, past histories of racial, political, religious differences dissolve. When I share hearty laughter with others, I meet them with openness and trust. I enter into a contract to simply be human with them for the moment.
Because it’s a universal language, I believe laughter is a force for democracy. And I believe, to the extent that we can construct communities that grant people the safety and freedom to laugh, we come that much closer to international brotherhood, friendship and world peace.
Our consumer culture tries to convince us that happiness comes when our desires are met. Laughing for no reason has taught me otherwise. Happiness is not something that happens. It has to be cultivated and practiced. It grows out of our efforts to have fun, despite our problems. And this kind of happiness is not only free, it’s contagious.
So laugh. Laugh at yourself and your flaws. Laugh with others and theirs. Laugh, and I believe, the world really will laugh with you.
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