I was working with someone this week who told me that we should do a podcast on humour…”for Gods sake why is everyone so miserable?”
There is a time in the madness of the world when I guess all that you can do is laugh. At this time it can be easy to feel that there is nothing good happening in the world. We have covid and the ongoing effects of covid, real wars and not just rumours of wars, the ongoing effects of Brexit, the ongoing antics of Trump and the ego stretching of Putin, what seems to be a collapsing NHS and Boris in number 10. This has to be the time to make a joke and have a laugh I think.
When did you last have a belly laugh?
This is a natural human emotion that is shared by all peoples in all parts of the world. Humour if often and emotional release typified by the fact that as a response to laughter our brain secretes happy hormones that will make us feel good. In many situations humour has a stress management function which allows for the release of tension. In some areas that are particularly stressful such as operating theatres, accident and emergency departments and ambulance or police response teams the humour may become very dark. If this humour is heard by people outside of the ‘group’ it may well be experienced as offensive, yet it’s function for those within the group is vital, it enables them to function.
Laughter as therapy
Laughter is therapeutic it can make the intolerable tolerable and it can defuse the unjustifiable. When we are mindful we live in the moment, in the present, not allowing ourselves to be distracted by the depressive past or the anxious future. When we laugh we laugh in the moment not the past and not the future. To laugh is to be mindful and to laugh with others is joyful.
Laughter may be the best medicine
Laughter will reduce the levels of stress hormone in our body. It enhances and increases the immune cells and the immune response, developing powerful infection fighting antibodies. It improves our resistance to disease and stress related illness. Laughter also has a direct effect on the brain as it releases more endorphins that increase our sense of happiness and wellbeing. These endorphins can also have an effect our experience of pain and lessen its effect. Laughter is a very powerful medicine.
Sigmund Freud, the father of Psychoanalysis, described humour as a release of tension and psychic energy. This would suggest that we can laugh at, or find funny, what is going on in our head and not necessarily what is going on around us. We might see someone simply walking down the street and laughing at something going on in their head. When I worked in psychiatry I would often see a patient chuckling away in the corner and just letting it out, managing their stress.
Laughter workshops are weird. You arrive not feeling at all funny. You might even be feeling a bit miserable. You meet a group of people, complete strangers and the course leader begins to laugh. At first it seem ridiculous. Then you have a go. Just a little laugh. Suddenly you are off laughing so that the tears are rolling down your face. Not sure what you are laughing at or why you are laughing. Just to look into the eyes of a fellow participant who is laughing is enough to set you off again. Laughter is infectious.
The comedy club
It can be the same when you go to a comedy show. In research, if the blood of people entering the show is taken and the levels of stress hormone and happy hormone measured and recorded and then same is done when they leave we find that after the show peoples stress hormone and decreased and the happy hormones have increased.
In her book ‘The Secret’ Rhonda Byrne describes a lady who was given a terminal diagnosis. She went home and watched every video that she could that would make her laugh. She claims that she laughed her way back to full health. I am unsure or the veracity of this claim though I am sure it would have improved her chances of survival and recovery.
Humour in unexpected places
Some of the funniest times I have had have been in hospices, often with people who were dying. In these situations humour and laughter is a tremendous stress reliever. I have also been at a funeral when a relative became hysterical with laughter which was infectious to some but greatly offensive to others. She was simply relieving her stress in that situation. And humour shared in a disaster situation has often saved the day. Once we see that laughter and tears are both ways of dealing with stress and releasing tension it can make a bit more sense.
Finally, laughter is a good thing and we should do more of it. To be able to laugh, lovingly, at yourself and your fellow human beings is a gift. However in your humour be kind and mindful and try not to offend others.
Take care and be happy and keep laughing