A Fascinating Fact - We're Not the Only Creatures Who Laugh and Smile

Caroline de Braganza

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(Image by David Caldron on Unsplash)

Primates and rats do too - but I’ll stick to the human story.

Laughter is a free, kick ass therapy to lift your mood and we don’t do enough of it. It’s the greatest pain killer (though not recommended for cracked ribs!).

There’s an urban myth that when we were kids, we laughed hundreds of times a day.

The legend began with Dr Michael Titze, a German Psychotherapist and pioneer in the world of therapeutic humor:

“In 1998 on the occasion of an international congresses dealing with therapeutic humor in which participated, among others, William Fry and Patch Adams, someone said that children laugh 400 times a day and adults only 17 times.”
“Because I was moderating this panel, journalists implied that I was the origin of this statistical statement (not at all true).”

Now as adults we manage around 15—what a miserable lot we are.

We grown-ups really need to laugh and smile more.

“It is impossible for you to be angry and laugh at the same time. Anger and laughter are mutually exclusive, and you have the power to choose either.” - Dr Wayne Dyer (1940–2015)

Laughter’s a magnet

Do you notice at a party how we gravitate to a raconteur who can fire off jokes one after the other and leave you RFMLAO, with tummy muscles aching and tears pouring off your cheeks?

What about in a public space?

A stranger giggles. You try to ignore it; snicker and snort. But before you know it, you’re guffawing along with them, even though you don’t have the faintest idea what’s so funny.

Why is that?

Because laughter’s contagious

Laughter promotes our health and well-being

Here are three effortless ways to feel better:

#1 Stress Relief

We release the endorphin neurochemical when we laugh—and when we cry. Endorphins are nature’s morphine—they ease emotional and physical pain.

If you don’t want to cry, a good comedy show works wonders as laughter has the same salutary effect.

Laughter reduces those pesky stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

A false smile is equally soothing. First, smiling uses less facial muscles than frowning—minimal effort required—and the act of carrying a silly grin on your face releases endorphins.

Though more challenging, a false chortle can cheat the stress too.

#2 Immune System

Our infection-fighting antibodies increase when we laugh. Your T-cells love a tickle and do better.

#3 Exercise

Who needs to go to the gym when you can do a workout with laughter? Your diaphragm, abdominal muscles, shoulders and heart take part as you crack up and cackle.

Laughter Therapy

In “Anatomy of an Illness (As Perceived by the Patient)”, published in 1979, Norman Cousins wrote how laughter helped him to recover from ankylosing spondylitis when diagnosed in 1964.

He couldn't move and was in constant pain, but didn’t lose his sense of humour.

“I credit my recovery to a prescription of Candid Camera episodes, Marx Brothers movies, and funny stories read by nurses. Within 10 minutes of laughter, I could procure two hours of pain-free sleep.”

Cousins suffered from inflammatory arthritis and claimed that 10 minutes of hearty guffawing while watching Marx Brothers movies brought him two hours of pain-free sleep—and that both inflammation and pain were significantly reduced.

Research since then has shown that laughter reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine; increases health-enhancing hormones (such as endorphins), neurotransmitters, and infection-fighting antibodies; and improves blood flow to the heart—all resulting in greater relaxation and resistance to disease, and improved mood and positive outlook.

Another innovator that springs to mind is Dr Hunter (Patch) Adams, a brilliant portrayal by the late and still mourned Robin Williams in the 1998 movie “Patch Adams.” I've watched the movie four times and counting!

Dr Madan Kataria, an Indian family physician, created Laughter Yoga in 1995.

Steve Wilson, a psychologist, brought the concept of Laughter Clubs to the USA in the late 1990s and is the founder of World Laughter Tour.

The list of pioneers is endless.

Laughter therapy has become a mainstream contributor to our health and wellness.

“You don't stop laughing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop laughing.”—Michael Pritchard.

If laughter’s asking too much, how about a simple smile?

Let’s infect everyone with a smile on our dial. We’ll be unstoppable.

It’s contagious.

If you want proof, here’s some science:

  • Ultrasound images prove infants smile in the womb
  • Neuroscience studies on mirror neurons show that when we observe a smile or other uplifting creative activity, we mimic the other person’s neural patterns.

But who needs proof when it feels so damn good to smile? We can spread our natural bread of kindness and joy with lashings of ravishing smiles.

Enlightenment doesn’t have to be hard. It’s as easy as a gracious grin.

  • “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

Forcing a smile when you’re feeling sad may seem counter-intuitive. Trust the process and you’ll feel those endorphins surge and lift your spirit.

It’s infectious.

Smile at yourself in the mirror. Smile at strangers, your co-workers, shop assistants, everyone.

When I interact with others on my weekly shopping trip, my primary mission is to make people smile. The grocery list is secondary.

I wave and smile at the rural laborers walking on the dirt road—they wave and smile back. Then I smile and greet the garage attendant, the tellers at the tills, the shelf-packers, fellow shoppers.

I have yet to encounter someone who didn’t smile back.

It works perfectly every time!

I hope you’re beaming from ear to ear - there’s no cure!

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Published essayist. Follow me for local news that impacts our lives, plus stories on public and mental health. Through writing, I also share my passion for music, politics, our environment and social justice, and hope you find value in my words.

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