Monday, April 22, 2024

Laughter is not a laughing matter

Close your eyes and dare to laugh or smile.
Anyone who sees you through the small crack of the door will conclude you were with your new voluptuous girlfriend last night. Congratulations!
Now, open those eyes and stare into space then laugh or just smile. They will look at each other and shake their heads. Then they will tap their foreheads behind your back, suggesting that you are a few thebe short of a Pula. Lobatse, here I come!

Laughter is not funny. Laughter is serious business with remedial potential. It’s only when it is abused that the laugher is not considered worth the laugh. Laughter is remarkable because it emanates from irregular situations.

Rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory and involuntary action ÔÇö better known as laughterÔÇöuses only fifteen facial muscles. They contract and stimulation of the zygomatic major muscle (the main lifting mechanism of your upper lip) occurs.

Meanwhile, says Encyclopedia Britannica, the respiratory system is upset by the epiglottis half-closing the larynx causing air intake to occur irregularly, making you gasp. “In extreme circumstances, the tear ducts are activated, so that while the mouth is opening and closing and the struggle for oxygen intake continues, the face becomes moist. The noises that usually accompany this bizarre behavior range from sedate giggles to boisterous guffaws.” Laughing is not a laughing matter; it is a chore.

I had a hard time talking to people about laughter because every time I asked them for their views on laughter, they smiled and then burst into laughter. And, have you noticed how contagious laughter is? If you start laughing, everyone around you starts laughing. Why?

While I was sitting in the queue at Princess Marina Hospital, I asked fellow patients about what they thought about laughter. They exchanged their concocted faces of pain with forced smiles and chuckles. They then burst out laughing and I don’t know why.

One researcher said that “laughter is an expression or appearance of merriment or amusement.” It is spontaneous. Basically, laughter is a sound that can be heard and may ensue as a physiological reaction from jokes, tickling or other stimuli.

But what is laughter and what does it mean?
Gelotology is the study of laughter and its psychological and physiological effects on the human body.

Enter Wikepidia, that depository of facts and bits of innuendo.
“Laughter is a part of human behavior regulated by the brain. It helps humans clarify their intentions in social interaction and provides an emotional context to conversations. Laughter is used as a signal for being part of a group ÔÇö it signals acceptance and positive interactions. Laughter is sometimes seemingly contagious, and the laughter of one person can itself provoke laughter from others.” This may account in part for the popularity of laugh tracks in situation comedy (sitcoms) television shows.

“Human beings love to laugh,” says Life Science. “The average adult laughs 17 times a day.” All one has to do is to look at the industries built around laughter. Humans love to laugh so much that there are multi-billion dollar industries built around laughter. Ask Dignash!

In 1962, there was an outbreak of contagious laughter in Tanzania. It began as an isolated fit of laughter in a group of teenage schoolgirls and rapidly rose to epidemic proportions.
“Contagious laughter propagated from one individual to the next, eventually infecting adjacent communities,” reported Robert Provine in the American Scientist. ”The epidemic was so severe that it required the closing of schools. It lasted for six months.”

The Tanzanian laughter epidemic is a dramatic example of the infectious power of laughter. Many readers, as we have noted, are familiar with the laugh tracks of television situation comedies – attempts to stimulate contagious laughter in viewers. Clearly, laughter is a powerful and pervasive part of our lives ÔÇô “an important component of that biobehavioral bedrock of our species” known as human nature. Scientific and philosophical dignitaries such as Aristotle, Kant, Darwin, Bergson and Freud have, at various times, recognized the significance of laughter.

“Jokes, sitcoms and comedians are all designed to get us laughing, because laughing feels good,” states Life Science. “Laughter (also referred to as the punctuation effect), is actually a complex response that involves many of the same skills used in solving problems.”

Researchers say there is strong evidence that laughter can actually improve health and help fight disease.
On March 14, 2005 the Washington Post published results of a research that concluded that “laughing increased blood flow as much as a 15 to 30 minutes workout.”
“In the study, 20 healthy men and women watched clips of two moviesÔÇöa violent battle scene from Saving Private Ryan and a humourous scene from a comedy. Each participant’s vasodilation (the ability of blood vessels to expand) was measured prior to the movie and again afterward.

“Of the 20 participants who saw the stressful film, 14 had significantly reduced blood flow. However, after watching the funny film, 19 of the 20 volunteers had significantly increased blood flow. Specifically, blood flow decreased by about 35 percent after experiencing stress. But blood flow increased by 22 percent after laughing, which is equivalent to what happens after a 15-to-30-minute workout.”

Past studies are reported to have found that stress hormones, like adrenalin and cortisol, which are released when a person is stressed, “may harm the body by suppressing the immune system and constricting blood vessels.” On the other hand, researchers say laughing causes the body to release beneficial chemicals called endorphins, which may “counteract the effects of stress hormones and cause blood vessels to dilate.”

In a similar manner, the studies concluded, laughing may also boost the immune system and reduce inflammation, which is thought to increase the risk of various health problems. The researchers say there’s no downside to laughing and they have no problem recommending it to their patients.

American Scientist magazine says a laugh is characterized by a series of short vowel-like notes (syllables), each about 75 milliseconds long, that are repeated at regular intervals about 210 milliseconds apart.

“A specific vowel sound does not define laughter, but similar vowel sounds are typically used for the notes of a given laugh. For example, laughs have the structure of “ha-ha-ha” or “ho- ho-ho,” but not “ha-ho-ha-ho.” There are intrinsic constraints against producing such laughs.”

Decidedly, laughter is a science!

Linguists say one of the key features of natural laughter is its placement in speech. Laughter almost always occurs during pauses at the end of phrases, says Life Science, suggesting that an orderly process (probably neurologically based) governs the placement of laughter in speech and gives speech priority access to the single vocalization channel. This strong relationship between laughter and speech is much like punctuation in written communication ÔÇö that’s why it’s called the punctuation effect.

Researcher Enda Junkins notes that we hear laughter in hospital waiting rooms, church sanctuaries, funeral homes, and even at accident sites.

“These are not funny places. Is it possible that some people actually laugh in serious situations or even at times when they’re down in the dumps? Amazingly, many of us do. We laugh when we really need it most if we let the body do what comes naturally. Laughing to lift gloom is like screwing up your face to take medicine and finding out that it actually tastes good.”

Culturally and professionally, researchers say, there is a major misconception about laughter. It is most often connected to happiness and to frivolity and silliness, with an assumption that it has no connection to the important, serious things of life. The fact that laughter springs from pain as a natural coping and survival mechanism simply doesn’t occur to mental health practitioners. However, laughter does not mean happiness. And laughter is not humour although humour may cause laughter.

Says Junkins, our laughter, while valued as a good thing, is unfortunately undervalued and underestimated as a natural way of taking care of ourselves. Mother Nature did not provide us with laughter just for grins. She gave us laughter to heal our bodies and our emotions so we can cope with life as we experience it. This has been true since Adam and Eve first giggled in the Garden, and is still true today. Why then do we persist in overlooking this natural medicine which bubbles up from within? We just haven’t recognized its importance. How can something which feels so good actually be good for us?
There are rewards for approaching nature with a naive curiosity and attempting to see the familiar in new ways.
Laugh your way to better health then. Don’t laugh; get serious and laugh.


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