"We don't laugh because we are happy, we are happy because we laugh." - William James
In their bestseller 'Power of 5' Harold H. Bloomfield and Robert K. Cooper have quoted scientific theories which prove that laughter stimulates the production of brain catecholamines and endorphins, which affect hormonal levels in the body, some related to feelings of joy, an easing of pain and strengthened immune response.
"Humour," says Edward deBono, who coined the term lateral thinking, "is by far the most significant behavior of the human mind." Add Bloomfield and Cooper, "A quick infusion of light-heartedness can not only boost your energy but may help make you more helpful toward others and improve cognitive processes such a judgement, problem solving and decision making."
We cannot deny that Laughter is, in most cases, the best medicine. Yet we choose to ignore this universal truth. Robin S. Sharma in his hugely successful book 'Who will cry when you die' quotes a study according to which an average four year old laughs three hundred times a day while the average adult laughs fifteen times a day. Sharma emphasises that with all the obligations, stresses and activities that fill our days we have forgotten how to laugh.
In the case of Indians this is even truer. We as a nation are notorious for lacking a sense of humour. Ask one of our most famous writers, Khushwant Singh, who has been lamenting on this tragedy for years. This phenomenon is quite strange since we have so many reasons to laugh about - our holier than thou politicians, the pompous bureaucrats, the pampered cricketers, the over paid film stars, et al. And yet we take life so seriously. Every little thing peeves us no end. We go on dharnas, strikes and bandhs at the drop of a Gandhi topi. We indulge in riots before you can say Almighty. Yet indulging in a laugh riot is an anathema to us? Why can't we make humour a part of our lifestyle? Why can't we stop taking ourselves so seriously?
Let me shift gears slightly and discuss the much abused phrase sense of humour. What does it mean? According to me it is the ability to laugh and/or make other laugh. It is the knack of participating and/or provoking laughter. Let me explain. My daughter Ankita is quite bright and enjoys a joke. She is always laughing at something or someone (including herself). But she can't make you laugh. My son Aniket, on the other hand, excels in the art of repartee. His tongue in cheek, usually laid back humour and ready wit has us doubling up with laughter, asking for more.
Now both Ankita and Aniket have a great sense of humour and both sorts are necessary to make our society more mirthful.
However while Ankita type sense of humour can be cultivated it is virtually impossible to teach a person to be witty. Teaching the art of repartee or satire is as impossible as teaching creativity. (I know, I know there are numerous universities in the world offering you courses on creative writing for a paltry sum. They promise that all that is there between you and the Booker or the Nobel is a insignificant amount of 980 dollars in three easy installments or 900 dollars as down payment).
So how does one cultivate a sense of humour Ankita style or to put it simply how does on learn to laugh more?
- Look for the ridiculous in the sublime and help your child see it too. In your day to day life you fill find numerous occasions which have a funny side. You don't need a correspondence course to appreciate them - all you need is a fresh vision.
- Fill your home with books, which are humorous. There are some writers/creators whose work is the perfect pill for blowing away the blues. For the younger children keep in hand Goscinny and Uderzo (of Asterix fame) while for the older ones P.G. Wodehouse, Jerome K. Jerome and our very own Jug Suraiya and R.K.Laxman would be ideal for tickling the funny bone. Let your child dip into the works of these messiahs of mirth and learn just not to laugh more but also to live better.
- Make a collection of VCD/DVDs of comedies. Top on your list should be the immortal Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy series and Indian classics of Kishore Kumar. Watch them with your child. Sharing a laugh is a great way of cementing bonds.
- There is a yogasana in which all you have to do is laugh - not an apologetic, socially correct one - but a laugh that begins in your belly reaches up to your face and explodes. This laughter therapy is a wonderful mood elevator. Try doing this with your kid - the result will be instantly therapeutic.
- In work situations ease the tension by cracking a joke or passing a funny remark. Your objective should be not to put someone down but merely to lighten the situation. Now with cell phones at your disposal you have a virtual treasure trove of jokes, which you can always, dip into. Come back home and share these moments of mirth with your family.
- Children love fun- they love to smile, giggle and laugh. Don't curb these impulses. Rather, join them in the frolic. Forget for a few minutes that you are the Senior Manager in a multinational or a Doctor in a major hospital - forget that you are an adult who has to shoulder a truckload of worries. Just let go - allow your kid and the kid in you to take over and ENJOY!
At this point I would like to share with you a movie which I feel is a must watch for every parent, every cine buff and every individual who believes in the dignity of humour. Life is Beautiful is a cinematic experience I would cherish for a long time to come. In it the protagonist is deported to Auschwitz, the dreaded Nazi concentration camp along with his seven-year-old son. There instead of wallowing in pity or cursing fate the father uses all his creativity and ingenuity in making 'life beautiful' for his young son. Rather than turning out to be an ordeal the experience becomes fun for the child thanks to the guts, gumption and inventiveness of the father. Ultimately the father dies and in the process teaches the son (and the viewers) the value of life and living. The film is a classic example of how humour can be used in the most horrific of circumstances to heal, educate and elevate. It is my conviction that we can and we should indulge in humour to deal with the 'concentration camps' in our day to day life to emerge unscathed. This brings to my mind the words of the philosopher John Morreall, who, in his book Taking Laughter Seriously, explains: "The person who has a sense of humour is not just more relaxed in the face of potentially stressful situations, but is more flexible in his approach. Even when there is not a lot going on in his environment, his imagination and innovativeness will help keep him out of a mental rut, will help him to enjoy himself, and will prevent boredom and depression."
Humour, health and happiness have much more in common than alliteration. Humour can lead to better health and greater happiness. The earlier in our lives that we realise this truth the better it is for us as well as those around us.
"Laughter is the shortest distance between two people," says Victor Borge the great Danish composer and entertainer. So what are you waiting for - laugh all the way to the bank of greater love and understanding, greater happiness and joy.
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