Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sharing a Laugh and a Smile

Some say laughter is the quickest way to change our mood or thinking. How often do you laugh? Can you laugh at yourself? Do you intentionally seek laughter to change your mood? Is laughter of value in your life, or just a natural reaction to stimuli?

Marshall Brain has studied laughter and tells us that the average adult laughs 17 times a day. When we laugh heartily, changes occur in many parts of the body, even the arm, leg and trunk muscles. Laughter seems to be produced via a circuit that runs through many regions of the brain. (This means that damage to any of these regions can impair one's sense of humor and response to humor, experts say.)

  • The left side of the cortex (the layer of cells that covers the entire surface of the forebrain) analyzed the words and structure of the joke.
  • The brain's large frontal lobe, which is involved in social emotional responses, became very active.
  • The right hemisphere of the cortex carried out the intellectual analysis required to "get" the joke.
  • Brainwave activity then spread to the sensory processing area of the occipital lobe (the area on the back of the head that contains the cells that process visual signals).
  • Stimulation of the motor sections evoked physical responses to the joke.

Behavioral neurobiologist and pioneering laughter researcher Robert Provine believes that laughter is a decidedly social signal, not an egocentric expression of emotion. In the absence of stimulating media (television, radio or books), people are about 30 times more likely to laugh when they are in a social situation than when they are alone. Humor that creates laughter in these situations may be:

The incongruity theory suggests that humor arises when logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don't normally go together.

The relief theory - an actual story or situation creates tension within us. As we try to cope with two sets of emotions and thoughts, we need a release and laughter is the way of cleansing our system of the built-up tension and incongruity.

In some respects laughter may be a signal of dominance/submission or acceptance/rejection. Consider the distinction between laughing with and laughing at someone.

The superiority theory comes into play when we laugh at jokes that focus on someone else's mistakes, stupidity or misfortune.

A speaker, in other cases, may buffer an aggressive comment with laughter or deliver a remark using "laugh-speak," a consciously controlled hybrid of laughter and speech. In this sense laughter may modify the behavior of others by shaping the emotional tone of a conversation.

Laughter, in its highest form, can also be intentionally used to uplift the spirits of others, as in the case of clowns and comedians who visit hospitals and hospices to bring smiles to those in most need of them. In the Presence of Humor: A Guide to the Humorous Life by Cy Eberhart is a systematic and comprehensive guide, written to increase your ability to find and achieve the humorous life by activating your comic viewpoint. It's designed to help you realize the spiritual strengths that come from experiencing the humor present in your living.

What do YOU think?


sctshep said...

Laughter has probably saved my life. I have one of those laughs that when my kids were little they didn't want to sit next to me in a funny movie. It sort of explodes. And I love it. I'm a pretty positive person but I have a melancholy undertone at times and as I have gotten older I am fighting not to become totally cynical. Given the political and business realities that becomes harder and harder. Laughter keeps my spirit alive and reminds me that the "Great Spirit" has to contain laughter which so many religions forget.

Aerten said...

I think a day without laughter is a day not worth getting out of bed for. People tell me I'm funny... and (I swear!) I'm not trying to be most of the time.

I knew I was going to eventually heal from my daughter's death when, about six months after the fact, I found myself laughing at something someone said... and making a joke in return.

And I suppose I could quote Readers Digest and say "laughter is the best medicine"!

Shelley Furgason said...

If my day includes is a good day ;-)

JM Sherer said...

What did the fish say when he ran into the wall?


Neil said...

In a dread moment I can see management insisting workers do laughing exercises. Robert Jackall wrote about the importance of laughing at bosses jokes and not topping them with your own in Moral Mazes. It is indeed a complex phenomenon. Laughing can actually be quite sad and nasty stuff too.

Charlie said...

Laughing is certainly everything you said it was below and then some: Medicine, therapy, and verve; but most of all--just having fun!

Maybe the managers of the world will create a "CHECK-LIST" to remind us when it would be best to laugh and why! Do we have any "CHECK-LIST" aficionados out there?

The ultimate horror, a check-list of when to laugh.

ornamentalmind said...

***chuckles @ Molly's post***

Valtermar said...

I think I appreciate good humor in others and I appreciate good laughing moments myself. I also believe laughing help us to stay healthy.

A good theme you chose to present. Well written, as usual.

Thank you! :-)

Molly Brogan said...

I think that what intrigued me to most about this information was the notion that humor can be used to dominate or manipulate a conversation. Like Neil, I have often wondered why I don't think some things are funny when others do. It took me many years to fully understand the concept of shaming that is so prevalent in Irish families. Jokes meant to belittle or demean were big in my family and always upset me until I realized why people used humor like this (albeit subconsciously,) and that I was the one choosing to be upset by it. Now, when someone uses humor like this, I can smile and enjoy the insight into their personality.

Trevor said...

I have heard about three Chinese mystics. Nobody knows their names now, and nobody ever knew their names. They were known only as the "Three Laughing Saints" because they never did anything else; they simply laughed.

These three people were really beautiful--laughing, and their bellies shaking. And then it would become an infection and others would start laughing. The whole marketplace would laugh. When just a few moments before, it was an ugly place where people were thinking only of money, suddenly these three mad people came and changed the quality of the whole marketplace. Now they had forgotten that they had come to purchase and sell. Nobody bothered about greed. For a few seconds a new world opened.

They moved all over China, from place to place, from village to village, just helping people to laugh. Sad people, angry people, greedy people, jealous people--they all started laughing with them. And many felt the key--you can be transformed.

Then, in one village it happened that one of the three died. Village people gathered and they said, "Now there will be trouble. Now we have to see how they laugh. Their friend has died; they must weep."

But when they came, the two were dancing, laughing and celebrating the death. The village people said, "Now this is too much. When a man is dead it is profane to laugh and dance."

They said, "The whole life we laughed with him. How can we give him the last send-off with anything else?--we have to laugh, we have to enjoy, we have to celebrate. This is the only farewell that is possible for a man who has laughed his whole life. We don't see that he is dead. How can laughter die, how can life die?"

Then the body was to be burned, and the village people said, "We will give him a bath as the ritual prescribes." But those two friends said, "No, our friend has said, 'Don't perform any ritual and don't change my clothes and don't give me a bath. You just put me as I am on the burning pyre.' So we have to follow his instructions."

And then, suddenly, there was a great happening. When the body was put on the fire, that old man had played the last trick. He had hidden many fireworks under his clothes, and suddenly there was a festival! Then the whole village started laughing. These two mad friends were dancing, then the whole village started dancing.

It was not a death, it was a new life.

Neil said...

It's boys' night out tonight. I don't do many. Curry at Moolal's, beer at SGT. The 'humour' will be foul - we have known each other years. Three doctorates will be at the trough, having learned little other than that the world is more at odds with itself than it will admit. Molly sounds as though she could at least interpret the ritual. I would not seek to intervene in any such stuff - though my wide sense of people in action suggests we are not happy in much of our laughing. There is a sense in which ridicule-satire is an agent of change (Emperor's New Clothes etc.) and understanding. This isn't about dancing on people's graves, but we seem to be under the control of some very sad seriousness that lies to us and never let's a festival of humour start us off towards something closer to truth. Laughing is often the saddness of recognition that 'Bildung' has been all for nothing, just a means of a few of us being able to see the joke.

Laughing is culturally different. The Danes have an immensely slow sense of humour, such that one can interpret Kierkegaard as a teller of shaggy dog stories (serious books on this folks!). There is a check list Charlie - this is how some people are able to laugh in Shakespeare and Molliere, and, of course, the claque is always important in getting us to laugh. My younger classes' sense of humour is often very undeveloped and little more than a fashion.

ornamentalmind said...

Esoteric aside: The Tibetan language has numerous words that sound exactly alike. They are clarified by the speaker spelling them. As a result, much of their humor is based on such word misunderstandings.

Valtermar said...

Jokes meant to belittle or demean were big in my family and always upset me until I realized why people used humor like this (albeit subconsciously,) and that I was the one choosing to be upset by it. Now, when someone uses humor like this, I can smile and enjoy the insight into their personality.

Yes, I have noticed you have learned ideas that help you greatly in dealing with situations such as these, such as the idea that tells you have the choice to decide to be upset by what others tell you.

That is a very good one. :-)

Molly Brogan said...

After over a decade in executive boardrooms of corporate america, I've also learned to tone down a bully. I see you noticed, Valt. But I don't use humor for this, as you may have noticed. I do use it to relieve tension in a group or unify the group. I always choose unity.

Francis said...

"I always choose unity". That's a very interesting statement, Molly. To your credit, this IS the direction you take in your postings. What I find impressive is the way you strive to find common ground with someone whose position is opposed to yours, without giving up your standpoint.
I'm not sure I can (or want to) always act in such a way. I have a very strong tendency to seek harmony in my personal life and I've learned (hard) that it's not always a positive thing. I have had to learn to stand the tension, to stick to my position if I've decided it's important to me, and so on.
You really manage to square the circle on this one. Bravo!

Neil said...

Francis' feelings are pretty much mine too. I'm not too interested in unity, but rather expression of local knowledges and getting deciding potentials in the right place. Molly usually has accommodation rather than contest available, which seems entirely a good thing.

Molly Brogan said...

Peacemaking can contain compassionate communication through the tension without giving up belief or giving into conflict. Sometimes, holding the space for collapse is the best course of action, knowing, that what is next will include possibility not currently available.

Patricia said...

Laughter and smiles, hand in hand or separate can turn the grayish moment to the brightest! Most important, we all should SMILE, when the moment has you down place a big smile on your face and immediately feel better. Thanks for topic of discussion.

Jasko said...

Laughter is the best medicine, thanks so much for sharing this wonderful things.