Laughing lowers levels of stress hormones and strengthens the immune system. Six-year-olds laugh an average of 300 times a day. Adults only laugh 15 to 100 times a day. The first laughter appears at about 3.5 to 4 months of age, long before we’re able to speak. Laughter, like crying, is a way for an infant to interact with the caregivers.
Like smiling we don’t have to learn how to laugh, we just do. We’re born with the capacity to laugh. But we cannot just decide to laugh, its very hard to laugh on command or to fake it. A bit like a fake smile, a fake laugh can be detected quite easily by another person and for anyone that has tried to stop laughing or hide an ‘inappropriate’ laugh in a meeting – you’ll know how difficult that can be!
Are you known for your laugh? Whilst living in the Halls of Residence at University, I wondered why folk from the floor below always seemed to appear on our floor about 10 minutes after I arrived. Mentioning their impeccable timing I asked how they knew when we all had arrived. Their answer? We know everyone is here because we can hear you laughing. Mild embarrassment at how loudly I must have been laughing quickly moved aside at the marvellous thought that it was the sound of laughter that drew folk in – that encouraged others to join us. And as aware as I am at how my voice travels – though now it’s in office buildings rather than Halls of Residence – I am rather pleased that it’s the sound of laughter that tells someone I am there.
When we do laugh, it’s powerful, bubbling up from within us – yet very little is understood about why we laugh or what makes us laugh. What I find amusing may not be what you find amusing – and laughter can be triggered by sensations, thoughts, or even just certain situations will give us the giggles. When we laugh, we alter our facial expressions and make sounds, some of which we wish we didn’t (says the occasional snorter!!). In full flow our whole body gets involved, shoulders shake, arms & legs move – our breathing changes.
So why? Why do we laugh?
Well, you may be surprised to learn that it is less about funny and humour and more about relationships with other people. When was the last time you laughed? Was it at a joke or was it at a statement or observation that if you described it now, wouldn’t seem funny to someone else? People laugh at an incredibly wide selection of interactions, observations and statements. And many times we laugh at ‘in’ jokes – jokes that are understood as amusing because you are a member of a particular group
These curious “ha ha ha’s” are bits of social glue that bond relationships. And curiously we rarely laugh when we are alone (even less than we talk to ourselves) which seem to indicate that laughter is a message we send to other people.
Laughter is social and contagious. Hearing someone else laugh often causes us to laugh ourselves. Many comedy programmes utilise this knowledge by adding laughter tracks. Not sure if you’re favourite comedy has a laughter track? That’s because you are laughing along to it. Quite often if the laughter track is missing we don’t find the programme half as funny.
We laugh at the sound of laughter itself. When one person starts laughing – suddenly everyone ‘catches’ it. That’s why the Tickle Me Elmo doll is such a success — it makes us laugh and smile.
When we laugh, we’re often communicating playful intent. So laughter has a bonding function within individuals in a group. It’s often positive, but it can be negative too. There’s a difference between “laughing with” and “laughing at.” And I am positive that all of us has experienced both examples. People who laugh at others may be trying to force them to conform or casting them out of the group.
This blog started with a statement saying that adults laugh less than children. As adults, do you think we have less to laugh at – too many responsibilities – too many worries. Adults play less and laugh less. Think that’s healthy? Playing less means we lose some of our creativity, but it also means we lose out on opportunities to bond with others. What effect do you think that’s having on our lives? I’ve even experienced people trying to stop me laughing because they think I am drawing attention to myself or more importantly to them – when they prefer to be seen and not heard. How sad is it that laughter is reigned in – muffled…constrained? Surely it is better to nourish laughter, especially when times are tough.
Next time you are trying to hide that giggle – send it out there – let someone else enjoy the joke – release those feel-good endorphins in your brain – relieve a little of that stress you feel – let go – lose control – you’ll be surprised at how fantastic it feels!