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What's so Funny?
Posted: 11/10/2011 | Happiness Comments
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At first, I only laughed at myself. Then I noticed that life itself is amusing. I've been in a generally good mood ever since.  ~Marilyn vos Savant

Laughter is the best medicine - unless you're diabetic, then insulin comes pretty high on the list. ~Jaspar Carrot, Comedian
I’ve always loved making people laugh, and I’m quick to see the funny side of most situations. I was once recovering from major surgery, in a lot of pain and a morphine haze, cracking jokes that kept the hospital staff in stitches. Maybe it’s nature–my brain just seems to work that way. Or maybe it’s nurture–my parents were very funny people. As an actress, I always loved doing comedy best. Humor is a value for me, and I really enjoy helping clients find the humor in life for themselves.
We know laughter is good for us, it lightens our load and eases our passage through life. What is humor, exactly? Merriam-Webster defines it as, “That quality which appeals to a sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous,” and, “the mental faculty of discovering, expressing, or appreciating the nonsensical or absurdly incongruent.”
I also like this definition, from dictionary.com: “Humor consists principally in the recognition and expression of incongruities or peculiarities present in a situation or character. It is frequently used to illustrate some fundamental absurdity in human nature or conduct, and is generally thought of as more kindly than wit.” Basically, humor points to something that doesn’t go with something else. 
I do like wit also. Dictionary.com says that wit is considered the keen perception and cleverly apt expression of those connections between ideas that awaken amusement and pleasure. Ahhh amusement and pleasure, we can all use some of that.
Smiling and laughter are universally recognized by humans, and primates demonstrate the same ability. Why did we develop this trait, and how is it important to our survival? According to a Stanford University study, “...the ability to comprehend and find a joke funny plays a defining role in the human condition, essentially helping us to communicate ideas, attract partners, boost mood, and even cope in times of trauma and stress...(and) is thought to have numerous salutary effects, including acting as a natural stress antagonist and possibly enhancing the cardiovascular, immune, and endocrine systems.”  
Whew! I’ve always loved a good joke and when someone is cleverly funny, now I know why. And it explains why I married a guy who makes me laugh and have many very funny friends. Humor transcends language, culture, race and gender. It’s the best way to recognize and embrace our common humanity. As Victor Borge once said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” We see the common denominator, in the midst of our differences. And like yawning, laughter is contagious. This may serve an important function.
In his book, A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness, neuroscientist V.S. Ramaschandran theorizes that laughter evolved to give other humans the “all clear” signal: “I suggest that the rhythmic staccato sound of laughter evolved to inform our kin who share our genes; don’t waste your precious resources on this situation; it’s a false alarm. Laughter is nature’s OK signal.”  On a visceral level, laughing with others provides comfort as well as connection.
Laughter has enormous potential health benefits. A pioneer in “laughter therapy,” author Norman Cousins in his 1979 book, Anatomy of an Illness wrote about healing through laughter. After his diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, Cousins began to do research about the relationship between stress and illness. Deciding that positive emotions could heal, he cultivated laughter. He found 15 minutes of hearty laughter could produce 2 hours of solid sleep. He devoted himself to reading humorous literature and watching comedies, eventually reversing his symptoms and eliminating medications. 
Research proves that laughter reduces the stress hormones such as cortisol (the one that causes belly fat), epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and dopac, a dopamine catabolite.  It increases endorphins, human growth hormone and antibodies that fight infection. It also improves blood flow to the heart. All of this boosts our immune system, helps us relax, feel better, and possibly live longer. 
So we see laughter has curative properties and provides a sense of connectedness. How can it help us spiritually? The Dalai Lama wrote, “I have been confronted with many difficulties throughout the course of my life, and my country is going through a critical period. But I laugh often, and my laughter is contagious. When people ask me how I find the strength to laugh now, I reply that I am a professional laugher.” We can view humor as a spiritual practice, cultivated to center ourselves in joy and compassion. When we are laughing, we cannot sustain a negative state of mind. Joyful laughter can keep us anchored in gratitude and love, a state of grace.
Laughter Yoga originates in India but is now a worldwide phenomenon. People gather regularly to laugh without reason, based on the idea that the body can’t differentiate between real and fake laughter. As people pretend to laugh, they find themselves laughing authentically as they make eye contact and their joy expands. Try it right now–laugh out loud!
We know laughter is good for us. How do we find the humor in our daily lives? Pay attention! Life is chock-full of opportunities to laugh, from unpredictable events to our complex relationships. And if you still can’t find something to laugh at, take a good look at yourself and notice how funny we all can truly be. Our humanness can show us the best jokes of all.
Where in your life have you found humor under difficult circumstances? Has laughter helped you heal or connect with others? Your comments make a difference for all of us.


Daisy       Posted: 11/10/2011 10:35:59 AM

I am one who chooses laughter and smiles:) When difficult situations present themselves I do my best to keep the inner smile and remind myself that this too shall pass.
Truly enjoyed reading this! Great post!

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