"When choosing between two evils, I alway pick the one I haven't tried." - Mae West
“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” - Mark Twain
Laughter shifts perspective. It can release even the most seriousness of depression and help us “see the light.”
I recently heard a story on talk radio about a woman named Sarah who woke up one morning in the hospital after a suicide attempt. The nurse came into the room, drew back the curtain and said, “Good morning Sally, are you feeling suicidal today?” Sarah broke out laughing. The first reason she laughed was she thought a trained nurse should ask a gentler question of someone who just tried to kill herself the night before. The second reason she laughed was that Sarah thought a nurse would be sure to get the name right of someone who just tried to kill herself. But in that moment of laughter Sarah said a little light came into her life. She thought, “I’m laughing. If I can laugh at this, maybe I’ll be ok”—and after a lot of therapy, she was.
Researchers have found that laughter uplifts mood by triggering release of endorphins, it reduces stress, it acts as a stop gap for distressing emotions (its hard to feel sad or angry if you are laughing), laughter helps protect the heart by increasing blood flow, boosts the immune system, and improves sleep quality. Further, when sense of humor was measured as a quality of life statistic, those with a great ability to laugh were shown to have longer life spans.
From a social perspective researchers observed that laughter strengthened relationships, was socially attractive to others, enhanced teamwork, diffused conflict, and promoted group bonding.
Like anything laughter can take a shadow form. It can be used to belittle others, deflect from talking about a serious subject in need of attention, or, in its worse sense, even be used sadistically.
But when we are talking about laughter in a healthy sense, it is invaluable to mental health. A yoga teacher I studied with said that for mental and physical health and we needed to sweat and laugh every day. Even forced laughter can have the physiological and mental benefits already mentioned. For instance, I was walking on the beach one day and came across a “laughing yoga” group. The group invited me to join them. I hated the idea of formal laughing but pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone. With a frozen smile I nodded and took a step forward. True to their name the laughing yogis simply stood around and laughed out loud. I mean, really loud— screaming, bug eyed, belly laughs. It scared me. I wanted to run away. Just give it a chance, I thought— frozen smile still in place. Forced laughter always made me wince, and these people were really forcing it. They were howling with laughter at nothing while one by one sticking their guffawing faces into mine. My cynical, mid-westerner side was getting a lot of material. “They can’t be serious. How can I get out of this? We are really in California now,” I muttered. But the laughing yogis just wouldn’t stop. Over and over each one came up and pressed their face into mine guffawing with the over the top, cartoonish, awful laughter. After a while the absurdity of it did make me laugh a little (ok, my laughter was out of judgment, but still—). I tried to force laugh my best and finally walked away waving, “Ok, bye laughing yogis!” (you idiots) A few steps down the beach I stopped and realized something—my depression had lifted.
Below GloZell gives you a lesson in laughing: