‘Tis Better To Laugh

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.

E.E. Cummings

Why Do We Need To Laugh?
People have long recognized the importance of laughter. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jesters were important members of the King’s Court. Paradoxically, their importance came not from their being funny but from their ability to help the King see things differently. Laughter is a paradigm-changing activity. During the Great Depression, comedy flourished, producing stars like Mickey Rooney, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, the Three Stooges, and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Who can forget Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s On First” routine, broadcast first on radio in 1939? It seems as if the more dire the circumstances, the greater our need to laugh.

What Happens When We Laugh?
Laughter is a whole-brain experience, which explains why laughter enables us to see things differently. Laughter evokes both a cognitive and an affective response. This triangulation of perspectives: event, cognition, and emotion, facilitates our seeing things differently—we get it! And as we “we get it,” we gain perspective. When asked about comedy’s effect on an audience, comedian Bob Newhart replied, “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it, and move on.”

Can Laughter Improve Our Effectiveness?
One theory suggests that something becomes funny when we expect one thing but something else happens.  This incongruity of what we expect and what happens is what produces the positive benefits of laughter. Father Ryan, a fictional character in the The Parallax, experiences this phenomena when, according to him, he assumes an Irish persona in response to “feeling merry.” However, he admits that his “Irish brogue ‘tis but a fiction,” which begs the question: Does his Irish persona spring from a need to laugh or does it validate his need to experience his world differently?

Can Laughter Have Postive Therapeutic Benefits?
Laughter helps improve our attitude, reduces stress, and improves our general sense of wellness. Furthermore, research suggests that laughter also enhances physiological parameters. Studies have shown positive therapeutic outcomes for the circulatory, respiratory, muscular, and digestive systems. We’re beginning to realize the wisdom in the prescription offered by Lord Byron, two-hundred years ago—“Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.“