There’s an old story that goes something like this:
A man who’s suffering from depression goes to his doctor and asks for therapy, or medication…or anything that might bring happiness back into his life. The doctor tells him there’s a clown at the circus in town who can cause even the saddest man to double over in fits of laughter.
“Laughter is what I’m prescribing,” adds the doctor.
The man returns two weeks later for a follow-up. The doctor asks, “Did you see the clown at the circus?”
The man shakes his head.
“Because that clown is me.”
On the surface, it may seem this story is only about laughter disguising an ailment. However, that’s not the most influential message it contains.
The doctor had seen this clown cure many people’s low moods. He had seen that clown revel in the joy he brought to others and experience the pure delight that laughter could bring. However, that man never placed himself on the receiving end of that entertainment.
The doctor recognised laughter as a verifiable therapy for depression. But there’s one condition that had to be met: The laughter must be experienced with fellow humans, and we must allow those needs to be met with laughter created by others. We must be part of a community of laughers, if you will.
So what exactly is the power of laughter all about? How does it make us feel good not only whilst tied up in stitches, but long after the show is over?
The power of laughter is nothing short of a physical and psychological marvel.
It’s difficult to consciously control, right?
(Now, try to tickle your own foot. We’ll wait.)
(No luck? Interesting that you tried that.)
But, if I asked you to play this video, what happens?
Laughter is contagious and is a product of the firing of our auditory mirror neurons. This process is very similar to the contagion of smiling and yawning (although they’re triggered by visual mirror neurons).
And the contagious nature of hilarity leads to the widespread benefits of laughter. It is as good as a few ab crunches, for sure, and it releases endorphins, resulting in an opioid-like high. It also reduces cortisol (the stress hormone), raises the heart’s rate, reduces pain, relieves anxiety, and boosts immune function. But even more than that, and probably the reason we have evolved to include laughter in our social interactions, is community, belonging and comradery with our fellow humans.
Laughter: One Common Language
The sound of laughter is universal. When we travel across the globe, it’s one vocalization, among many, that’s not only easy to recognise, but that brings us together in a shared, multi-cultural, inclusive experience.
No language barrier can stand against an onslaught of laughter. No prejudice can sustain itself, for long, in the presence of self-effacing hilarity. And no bad mood can prevail in the presence of the highest level of happiness: a state of laughter.
Just ask Clowns Without Borders Ireland (CWBI), who bring laughter to refugee camps in Greece. They remind us that, “Once primary needs are met, laughter and feeling connected to other people are important.” Their physical, non-verbal comedy proves that we can have all the food, water and shelter we could ever want, but if you’re not laughing, you are not accessing your full power or your whole, perfect humanity.
laughing is a team sport
Laughter is central to our completeness; however, we do not recommend flying solo. A sitcom on the telly, or a funny book have healing powers, for sure, but nothing compares to sharing a belly laugh in a common space with your fellow humans.
There is no limit to the power of laughter. Mortal enemies and the best of friends can bond over a lively hoot. Strangers and family can build relationships over a breathless guffaw.
Feeling down? Or know someone who is? Want to improve your health? Or bring your community together with bonds that won’t soon be broken?
Set out to discover the power of laughter for yourself, but never by yourself.