How long has it been since you had a hearty chuckle or a side-splitting belly laugh?
We all need it, not every now and then, but every day.
It has been almost a year now since this unwelcome deadly virus has invaded our space. Yet no sooner than we feel we have slammed the door in its face, it finds its way back to wreak more havoc within our homes, schools, businesses and society.
A second wave came raging, despite every precaution, ravaging Europe, Melbourne, Hong Kong, the UK and other areas, imposing harsher restrictions, lockdowns, masking, spacing and all the rest.
Success against this vicious, malicious, pernicious tiny organism has been as fleeting as the breeze.
Despite hefty fines for disobedience, the contagion is fierce and health-workers are hustling against the clock. Even politicians are as scared as the rest of us. We are back to square one.
These are bizarre times and the future looks uncertain, if not bleak.
How do we cope with endless questions with no answers, with fear and indecision, with silent streets and endless confusion?
Humour is a natural stress reducer and symptom reliever.
Psychologist Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, forces her graduate students to watch funny cat movies at the beginning of every class. Humour therapy is officially complimentary and mainstream healthcare.
Besides physicians’ rounds there are clown rounds as part of bedside treatment in hospitals, nursing homes and medical clinics. The practice is called “clowncare”. The clowns do magic tricks and gags and you cannot imagine what laughter a rubber chicken can evoke.
The unique contribution made to society by humour in comic books, cartoons, TV sit-coms, movies and theatre are to be treasured as great gifts to humanity.
The medicinal benefits of laughter have been underrated —so has the creative artistry of the writers who tickle our funny bone.
Their best form is handling so adeptly ordinary people in ordinary situations, placing them in their appropriate ambiance with a rapidity and completeness beyond the power of the cleverest playwright. We identify, we see ourselves in them, and we laugh.
Even Shakespeare used humour.
How often have we seen episodes of I Love Lucy, or more recently Friends. They make us laugh over and over. We found it irresistible not to recall Donald O’Connor’s song, “Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh/ Don’t you know everyone wants to laugh”, featured in the movie Singin’ in the Rain.
What if there is nothing to laugh about? What if you simply do not feel like laughing?
Fake it, experts say. “Fake it till you make it.” And we do make it. Pretending to chuckle, giggle or chortle starts the process of full-blown laughter. It is even more contagious than its enemy, coronavirus. Once it starts rolling, there is no stopping it. It is good medicine for you physically and psychologically. The brain does not know you are faking it and the body benefits either way.
Studies show that laughing, even fake laughing, for and minute a day, relieves stress, eases pain, lowers blood pressure, uplifts your spirit and heightens your mental outlook.
The same is true with smiling. Facial expression influences your emotions by triggering specific neurotransmitters, the brain’s chemical messengers. When you frown, you feel bad. Not just because it reflects how you feel but the facial expression contributes to how you feel — the same way a smile makes you feel happier, even if you paste it on your face, it raises your mood and reduces stress.
Laughter reverses hormonal changes brought on by cortisol and other stress related chemicals. It stimulates the immune system and counteracts the effects of stress, increases energy, enabling you to stay focused and accomplish more. Best of all, it secretes endorphins, serotonin and dopamine the body’s natural pain killers. And there is more good news. Scientists believe that laughter gives your body the same benefits as moderate exercise.
The lockdown has prevented you from going to the gym to exercise, why not laughter-size?
A good hearty laugh benefits one’s circulation, lungs and muscles expand, that is the exercise we all love.
If truth be told, a mind that employs humour, amusement and light-heartedness contributes more to your well-being.
Even Sigmund Freud noticed the correlation between humour and the unconscious mind and pondered upon the question of why we laugh.
Too many of us take daily challenges with grim seriousness and humourless determination. You might even feel guilty laughing or smiling during hard times. This crippling approach does not prepare you for a better life.
It will not make quarantine easier. In fact, humour during painful times, lightens the weight of your burdens, be they mental or physical. Smiling through hardship shows courage and determination. It is the sign of a winner.
Humour has been around ever since the beginning of time. How do we know that? Chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans show laughter-like vocalisation in response to physical contact, tickling and chasing around each other.
So what are you waiting for?
Find an old Cary Grant or Laurel and Hardy movie. Or how about Monty Python or Mr Bean? Make the effort to brighten up those dark days.
When was the last time you cracked-up about something silly you did or saw or heard?
Start now. Start laughing.
Humour is not mere entertainment…it may well be the secret of our survival.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly