Learning to Laugh


I live to laugh and laugh to live (Milton Berle, 1908 ~ 2002)

A reader writes, "I read your article entitled 'The Benefits of Laughter' (http://www.personal-development.com/chuck/laughter.htm) and while finding it most informative, I also felt as though it were rubbing salt in a wound. You see Chuck, unfortunately I cannot laugh, and have been looking for all sorts of medical help with this problem. Of course you didn't know that I am going through a particularly difficult time learning to laugh. However, perhaps you could make things easier for me by sharing knowledge of anyone who shares my condition or perhaps what you think might help. I have tried comedies, jokes, funny stories, tickling. I am currently undertaking counseling and have a laughter yoga session scheduled for the end of the week. Like Norman Cousins, I am taking large doses of vitamin C along with zinc and mood essence. Is there anything else that you could suggest?"

ANSWER: A good place to start is by understanding your case is NOT unusual and is temporary. As long as you continue to worry about the situation, you place yourself under stress. And stress is a major deterrent to laughter. It is like a switch; turn on stress and you turn off laughter; turn off stress and you turn on the ability to laugh once more. Besides, there is the Law of Reversed Effort to deal with. That is, the harder you try to bring about something you desperately want, the more difficult it becomes to achieve. Here's the secret: after doing everything you can think of to reach your goal, relax and let it happen. Remember that laughter is not something you do, but something you allow to happen.

On the other hand, there is also a role for forced or deliberate laughter. That's because we can still get most of the physiological benefits of hearty laughter regardless of our mood. We don't have to be amused, happy, or have a special occasion to laugh. Merely wanting to improve our well being is good enough reason. With a little practice, we can soon adopt the playful spirit of children who laugh for no other reason than to laugh.

I'm happy to hear you joined a Laughter Yoga class. That is a sign that you refuse to be a victim and choose to take charge of your life. I wish to encourage you to attend the classes and to be patient. The good news is that as long as you do the exercises, you cannot fail. This is because regardless of your mood, your body will benefit from the physiological changes that hearty laughter brings about. Just do your exercises and over time you will begin to feel better. Besides, there's something funny about a roomful of people laughing hysterically without cause, so you may very well end up genuinely laughing and having a great time.

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Madan Kataria (a doctor from Mumbai, India), there are now 5,000 (Yoga) Laughter Clubs around the world, with at least a quarter million members belly laughing and enjoying good health. You can learn more about this movement at: http://www.laughteryoga.org/. Because of the benefits of laughter, consider joining or forming your own Laughter Club.

Here are more considerations that may apply to our reader's question.

1. If you are suffering from General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or Clinical Depression, be sure to get the professional help you need. For you won't be able to laugh until you free yourself from obsessive worry and lift your mood.

2. Workplace burnout is another major cause for losing one's ability to laugh. If that describes you, a change in lifestyle is called for. That is, you need more balance, time for play and relaxation as well as work. It's hard to laugh when you don't have time for mirth.

3. Experiencing a trauma is like being badly wounded. Trauma victims need to be healed before they can laugh again. One of the most serious traumas is the loss of a loved one. For more information on recovering from grief, see http://www.personal-development.com/chuck/mourning_process.htm

4. Yet another reason for the absence of laughter in one's life is the inability to laugh at oneself and accept criticism. If we are overly sensitive, we will be too tense for laughter. Remember the natural habitat of laughter is relaxation. So stop worrying about what others are thinking about you because they're not. That's right, they're not thinking about you because they're too busy worrying about themselves. So, relax!

5. Develop your sense of humor. A sense of humor is the ability to see and laugh at the incongruities of life. For example, imagine a disabled man with a sense of humor struggling to row a canoe in a pond. He's moving so slowly that a turtle passes him! "I lost a race to a turtle!" laughs the man. Become like him, ever watchful and aware of the inconsistencies and absurdities of life so you will always have something to laugh about, regardless of the severity of the challenges you face.

6. Hang out with children. You'll soon be taken in by their innocence and playfulness. Forget about yourself; brighten up their day by making them laugh, and you soon will be laughing too.

7. Until to relearn the art of laughing, practice smiling. Like Laughter Yoga, you don't need a reason to do it; just do it and experience the benefits. Psychologist Paul Ekman (Human Interaction Lab at the University of California in San Francisco) says real and fake smiles have the same positive effects on brain activity, skin temperature, heart rate and respiration.

8. Use the Internet as a source of funny photos, cartoons, and jokes. Make your own humor scrapbook. Just ten minutes a day spent on studying humor will pay big dividends in the future. Be patient and remember not to force anything. Just relax and eventually laughter will happen to you.

9. Heed this advice from Og Mandino (1923 ~1996), "Laugh at yourself and at life. Not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come. Never take yourself too seriously."

Finally, here's what sacred scripture has to say on the subject, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22, KJV), or for a more modern version of the same verse, "A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired." (MSG). But what do you do if you don't have a merry heart or cheerful disposition? The answer is LAUGH. After all, as William James (1842 ~ 1910) said, "We don't laugh because we're happy -- we're happy because we laugh."

© Chuck Gallozzi
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