The everlasting resource inside you
For years I had heard the phrase ‘true happiness lies within in you’ but I always thought that it was somehow hidden, and would require meditative practice or immense wisdom before it could be accessed. I didn’t have the time, opportunity or desire to go on a spiritual journey to look for it, and I concluded that this sort of happiness was not for the likes of me. I was wrong, there is a perfectly simple, natural way of accessing a perfect form of happiness that is available to every human on the planet. It’s nature’s gift to each of us and because it is so vitally important to our development it shows up in our lives when we are just a few months old, and stays with us our whole life. It is always there, freely accessible at any time. It is called laughter.
The instant antidote to stress and anxiety
Whenever we laugh, our physiology changes, and although laughter can be a physically demanding activity, when we stop a relaxation response is triggered and our body becomes dominated by the parasympathetic nervous system. In this condition our heart and breathing rate decrease, our immune system and digestive systems become active and our thoughts and emotions are processed. It happens naturally whenever we are relaxed but in our modern stressful and busy life, we frequently don’t spend enough time in this therapeutic state and this is a major cause of physical and emotional illness. People who suffer from chronic stress with anxiety and seek help from their doctor could have immediate relief from simply laughing. The problem is most people are unaware of this simple solution and the irony is the people who need laughter the most, are often the people who laugh the least.
Good news though
Children utilise the gift of laughter all the time. They laugh to express joy, excitement, curiosity, play, happiness and simply laugh because laughter feels good. Most adults, though, rely on humour and other people to make them laugh and laughter is left to chance, so that it is not unusual to go a day or a week without laughing. When I ask people when they last laughed heartily and unrestrained they frequently have problems remembering and many have to recall occasions from years ago. In 1995, Doctor Madan Kataria, a GP in India realised that our bodies respond to laughter even when it’s expressed without feelings of mirth. He designed Laughter Yoga as a way of laughing as an exercise, and it worked! Simply chanting the words ‘ho, ho, ha, ha’ whilst clapping has exactly the same effect as laughing at jokes; all that is needed is a willingness to laugh and the right environment. Practising this sort of laughter often ends up as spontaneous authentic laughter but positive benefits are experienced regardless. The concept of therapeutic laughter has swept around the world as more people discover a way to keep fit and happy which is easy and fun to achieve.
The experience of living in the moment
I have been running free weekly laughter sessions in my community for over two years and during that time I’ve facilitated laughter for corporate clients, therapists and carers, university postgraduates as well as organisations who support people suffering from chronic pain, depression and addiction. What I have come to learn is this: during a laughter session each group is indistinguishable from each other. This is because laughing is a mindful experience, so when we laugh we become totally engaged with the physical and mental process of laughter. Thoughts and feelings about past and future are temporarily suspended and physical and emotional pain is alleviated or may disappear. Laughter may not solve all our practical problems or cure all our diseases but it does offer a break from them and afterwards we feel renewed, restored and resilient.
When laughter is always appropriate
The wonderful thing about laughing with others in a laughter group is that there is a complete absence of judgment and I have seen how laughter unites and bonds people together. When we laugh we produce oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’ [read The Moral Molecule, Code 240201, £6.99], which helps even the most shy and reticent people feel connected to others.
I remember one lady with cancer in our laughter group who told me ‘It’s so lovely to laugh and see the happy faces of everyone around. I’ve got used to everyone looking at me with serious, worried and concerned expressions. Here no-one knows about my illness; at home it’s all we talk about.’ She was unaware that there was another in the group going through exactly the same issue.
Most of our group is healthy and happy most of the time and laughter is an important contributing factor of keeping us like this. It’s not the case that I facilitate laughter selflessly for others, I get as much from each session as they do. I am truly blessed through laughter.
You can choose to laugh whenever you like
Although we tend to think of laughter as something we have no control over, this is a fallacy. You can choose to laugh right now, this very minute. I encourage you to try because you may just find that it triggers natural laughter in response. If you are in the company of others they are very likely to start laughing with you even though they don’t understand why you started to laugh. Laughter is highly infectious and spreads really easily in a group. I highly recommend laughter as a great way to improve your wellbeing. Try to be in the company of people who laugh a lot, watch films or read books that you find funny or join a laughter group if you can. Or simply just choose to ‘laugh for the health of it’.
© 2014 Lesley Lyle has university qualifications in Clinical Hypnotherapy
and Positive Psychology and is author of Laugh Your Way to Happiness (Watkins Publishing, 2014)