What Makes Us laugh

Lynette Mitchell, Australia
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Tuesday, 5 March 2013 18:18:52

There has been much scientific study done around the benefits of laughter to one’s health and wellbeing.  It is generally accepted and backed up by studies, that children laugh between 300-400 times per day, whereas adults considerably less, 15-17 times.  What’s that all about?

As adults we lose the ability to laugh.  We become conditioned and very much influenced by other peoples’ expectations of us.  There are heavier responsibilities upon our shoulders, as we grow up.  More serious people who we live and mix with encourage us also to be more serious.  We can get put down for laughing and being light-hearted, resulting in suppressing our natural cheerful state and so laughing less.  This has a dramatic effect upon our health and well-being.

Also, laughter is a group thing.  People generally do not laugh alone, excepting of course when watching the idiot box.  To laugh, we need to feel safe, comfortable, open and free with people.  We need to feel trusted and develop a stronger bond with that person or those persons.  Laughter creates more laughter.  It is rather like a feedback loop, laughter begets more laughter.

It is easy to laugh with our peers, as we want to be accepted, not singled out or different.  Laughter has become such a social thing, although one would not think of it unless it was pointed out.  For instance, if a dominant individual such as the boss or a patriarch is laughing, people will go along laughing wholeheartedly at jokes and such that afterwards may think, ‘that wasn’t really funny’.

So, laughter, like many other human behaviours, has evolved to even be manipulative.  It can be used as a conciliatory gesture, lessening the risk of confrontation in an otherwise embarrassing or threatening situation.  Robert Provine found in his research study, that laughter functions as a social signal.  Apart from the pseudo-social stimuli of TV, people are thirty times more likely to laugh in social settings than when they are alone.  Even tests show that nitrous oxide (laughing gas), looses some of its oomph when taken in solitude.

The concept of Laughter Yoga where we laugh with the people in a group makes it much easier for everyone to laugh which is free from many conditions. It is truly connecting as we are not laughing at but laughing with the people.


Emotional responses appear to be confined to specific areas of the brain.  On the other hand, laughter is produced via a circuit that runs through many areas of the brain.  As well, no one can make us laugh.  We choose it, want to, and through a split second decision, we do so.  Equally, no one can make us stop laughing; we have to want to stop laughing ourselves.  But what we find is that as we laugh more, our laughing muscles in our face are stretched.  This means that they respond more quickly to humour, which in turn increases our capacity to laugh.

In Laughter Yoga Clubs we exercise our laughter muscles on regular basis and that helps us to respond to humorous stimuli much easier and quickly. This is the scientific reason how Laughter Yoga can increase our capacity to laugh all throughout the day not just in laughter clubs.

Three Theories of Laughter

There are three traditional theories about what are found to be humorous.

The Incongruity Theory: When what seems logical and is familiar are altered to be things that don't normally go together.  Often things can be very funny when we expect one outcome and something else happens.  When a joke starts, our minds and bodies start to anticipate the outcome.  This anticipation comes about logical thought being intertwined through our mind, emotions and past experiences.  When the joke changes direction, we have to alter ourselves to having different thoughts and emotions simultaneously.  This can really throw us out and then we experience the incongruity between the different parts of the joke as humorous.

The Superiority Theory: This is rather like watching Funniest Home Videos on the tele.  We laugh at jokes that focus on someone else’s mistakes, stupidity, or misfortune.  As we feel superior to the person, we are able to hold some detachment from the situation and so are able to laugh at it.

The Relief Theory: When humour is introduced into a stressful situation, it gives us a mental break and we can hold more objectivity around it.  Filmmakers often deliberately heighten our tension and then introduce humour as a means to release it.  Frequently humour is used in the dark sense, which holds appeal to many people.

Obvious differences affect us in what we find funny.  Age appears to be the most significant of these.
Infants and children are discovering the world around them.  As a lot of what goes on around them seems ridiculous and surprising, this strikes them as being funny.  Their requirement is usually short and simple concepts.  Oddly enough, they appreciate jokes where cruelty is present or ‘toilet humour’ ones.  This is because as they are developing, these boost their self-assertiveness and the fascination with bodily functions is normal for them in exploration.

As the pre-teen and teenage years can be awkward and tense, theirs can be of a more rebellious style.  Many adolescents focus on jokes focusing on sex, food and figures of authority.  It can be used as a protective tool or to help them feel superior.

As we mature and our physical bodies and mental outlook changes, so does our sense of humour.  We tend to laugh more at the issues that stress us.  There is an intelligence often involved in ‘getting a joke’.  Consequently our sense of humour evolves.  We can laugh at other people and situations where we can relate from our own personal experience.  The adult sense of humour is usually more subtle, tolerant and less judgmental towards other people.  We seem to be aware that our humour has changed as we have been growing up and that what seemed funny to us once, is not any more funny.

Humour seems to develop with each culture creating it's own base for it.  Some things are naturally funny to people, whereas if they lived in another country, it would not be that way.  Also much fodder for jokes is provided by culture, economic and social issues and of course religion is high up there too.  But some racist and sexist jokes are offensive to some.  Whatever our beliefs are, the joke can strike a nerve, causing us not to be humoured, but instead to be offended.

This where Laughter Yoga seems to be helping more and more people to laugh as this is non humour based. Humour is very mental and intellectual phenomenon and also it is very individual and cultural. Most people do not identify with sense of humour but we all have the capacity to laugh which comes from our inner child. All we need is to wake up the child within and start playing more and you can laugh as much as you want without bothering about sense of humor.

Is your laughter free, frequent and spontaneous?  Or maybe it is held back, self conscious and inhibited.  People generally fall into two groups when mentioning myself being a laughter leader.  They either say they laugh a lot or alternatively, that they need to laugh more.  The ones who say that they laugh a lot say so laughingly, obviously enjoying that they see life through humour and laughter and that it is reflected in their face and bearing.  Whereas, the other group of people who say they would like to laugh more, appear to be drawn, serious, concerned, worried and sad.  Being able to look at life through a healthy sense of humour is definitely a great asset these days.  Fortunately, many among us recognise that we are unable to change many of the situations in our life that we feel locked into.  But they also recognise and have learnt through experience that they are able to control their attitude to the situation, which changes their perspective.  Looking through these eyes, doors open, opportunities present and wisdom develops.

Acting as if.  Now, many people know about this one.  To pretend, fake it till you make it.  Rather like the song from The King and I, ‘Singing a Happy Song’, then forgetting being sad in becoming involved and being happy.  And from Bye Bye Byrdie, ‘Put on a Happy Face’.  Faking laughter will cause the body to respond as though the laughter is real.  The physiological changes that occur with real laughter will also take effect even when we just pretend to laugh.  So there is no excuse.  If you don’t feel it, fake it.  When we really are aware of it and open, synchronicities can happen.  We make an effort to laugh or be happy; it can be choosing a better habit when our life takes a particular turn or our awareness or vibration changes.  We magnetise to ourselves according to our energy.  It's a great thing about free choice. 

Through NLP, or Neuro Linguistic Programming, we also learn the same thing.  That the unconscious mind cannot differentiate between feeding it the real thing or a pretend one.  Same as affirmations, we reprogram the subconscious mind positively so that we are thus able to develop into more positive people.  It is a matter of choosing what and who we want to be.  Do we want to choose love or fear?  Once we choose to feed happy feelings into our body, it responds in such a positive way.  Our aura changes. 

How To Add More Laughter In Your Life
Join a Laughter Club.  There are presently over 6000 of such clubs operating around the world today.  In France people meet each morning before work.  Here in Australia, they tend to be held mostly on a Saturday morning.  Check out www.laughteryoga.org

Dr Madan Kataria started these clubs in 1995 in Mombai, India.  Now there exists a whole new laughter movement, not only through Dr Kataria’s organisation, but many other bodies.  Dr Kataria has a motto and mission in life, which is ‘World Peace Through Laughter’.  His belief is to help create a unified world, where everybody belongs to the same religion – that of LAUGHTER.  Dr Kataria is a qualified physician who practices yoga and meditation.  The clubs have been created to combine laughter exercises based on yogic breathing and stretching techniques.  Also it is important to note that they are a group activity, where each person becomes involved with the help of Laughter Leaders.

The Laughter Leaders and other anchor persons receive training through the organisation, so that all clubs run along similar lines.  A session is usually something like the following, although each club accumulates more laughs, having quite a catalogue of them.  The laughs are simple exercises, rather like role-playing.  It is also through the role-playing that the inner child has the ability to surface.  A lovely feeling.  In addition, one’s creative side begins to flow freely and this inspiration leads into our everyday lives.  We find ourselves uplifted and discovering humour in little things, like when we were children.

Laughter Sessions usually last 20 – 30 minutes.  Each bout of laughter generally lasts between 30 and 40 seconds.  This is following by clapping, which acts upon the acupressure points of the hands.  As we clap, we say Ho Ho, Ha Ha Ha.  Then two deep breaths follow before the next laughter exercise.

Sessions begin with deep breathing, followed by shoulder, neck and stretching exercises.  Perhaps also other breathing and loosening up exercises too, like cross crawling ones.

Now, the idea is to connect through our eyes and hearts, so it is best done standing, so that we are able to move about, connecting with several people.  It is a group thing and very bonding.  Some people are quite good at some exercises and vice versa.  About twenty exercises are performed, which are supposedly done ‘faking it till you make it’.  Generally there is not a problem in wholehearted laughter, however newcomers may feel a little uncomfortable and inhibited.  But to make a commitment for one’s health and welfare and to come regularly to the laughter sessions, they soon find themselves becoming more relaxed and comfortable.  Naturally, this flows into other areas of their life.  As within, so without!  By participating in laughter sessions, people’s inhibitions are decreased and self-esteem increased.  One not only feels good, but there is a large flow over of benefit to other areas within our lives.

Here are the names of a few of the exercises.  Cell phone laughter.  Lion laughter (the yogic posture).  High five laughter.   Angelic.  Father Christmas.  Apology.  Milkshake.  Ice-cream.  I know something about you that you don’t know I know.  Superior.  Unbuttoning cardigan.  Blue Danube waltz.  Kookaburra.  The list goes on and on.  Electric handshake.  New ones are invented on the spot.  One can virtually take any tiny situation or happening and turn it into a laugh.

Most importantly, to finish up with is a short process involving each member holding hands, moving into the centre of the circle and repeating positive affirmations.  Finally, holding hands up in the air in a gesture of gratitude and a prayer for world peace.

Good luck.  We trust that you have the gist of what a lot of fun the Laughter Club can be.  Now, there are also many other things that can be done without going out of your own house, or encompassed within your everyday life.  Many are about smiling more, which has significant positive benefits upon the body.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 5 March 2013 18:18:52 )
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