Today I am going to change the way you view laughter. First of all, what is laughter? Laughter is pretty much a clumsy, bizarre sound that all humans make. It sounds sort of like sobbing, but it’s happy. The thing about laughter is that there’s more to it than silly nonsense. Humans haven’t evolved with laughter so that we can randomly start making uneven spasmodic noises all of a sudden. Surprisingly, laughter is not actually about humor, it’s really about social interaction. Laughter is a universal language that everyone speaks. It allows a profound connection with another human being to happen. When you laugh, you’re not using any words, you’re communicating on a physical plane. And, better yet, laughing makes you feel good and keeps you healthy. It can be joyous, triumphant, humorous, friendly, boisterous, embarrassed, or even sadistic, but it all depends on what caused it. let me give you an example that came from NPR Radiolab producer Ellen Horne.
In 1962, a girl in Tanzania was sitting at her desk in a boarding school outside a village called Kashasha. She was taking a math exam when all of a sudden she started laughing hysterically-those math tests-. Her laughter soon spread to two other girls in the room and then, it spread to the whole class. The roar of twenty girls’ laughter leaked out into the hallways and yet another girl walking back to her classroom also began to laugh hysterically. Within minutes, the entire school was completely out of control and the principal was forced to close the school for a day and send the pupils home. All this accomplished was spreading this strange laughter epidemic to each town that the students lived in. Men and women of all ages where laughing like they never had been before. The laughter escalated to a level at which people began having sudden fainting spells because the they were laughing so hard and couldn’t get enough oxygen to their brains. Some people reportedly died laughing. Nice way to go!? The uncontrollable laughter lasted for sixteen days and affected the entire west coast of Lake Victoria. In the end, 14 schools were shut down and about 1,500 people were affected. So what was going on here? Well, people think this colossal outbreak of laughter was caused by the happiness, the giddiness, people felt after Tanzania won their independence from England about a month before.
Happiness is certainly one of the driving forces of laughter, and like I said, you would think that humor would be the greatest force. But in fact, Professor Robert Provine and a group of grad students at the University of Maryland went out on the street and listened to what people said before someone laughed. What they found was that in 85% of the cases nothing funny preceded the laugh. People are saying things like “Hey, man what’s up? You gotta class?” “Ha ha ha!” Not exactly the funniest thing ever said, but laughter is not actually about humor; it’s really social. Some of the people that Dr. Provine observed did not speak the same language at all and yet they could make this profound communication through laughing with each other. Robert Provine said, “Laughter is a mechanism everyone has; laughter is part of universal human vocabulary. There are thousands of languages, hundreds of thousands of dialects, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way.” What laughter does is it provides a kind of social cue for the person you’re talking with to acknowledge that you are sharing thoughts. The sharing of laughter is what causes it to happen in the first place. You’ll notice you don’t laugh alone, do you?
Furthermore, the expression, “Laughter is the best medicine” is entirely true. It is based on scientific reports of what happens in our bodies when we laugh. Dr. Martin Seligman studied how critical laughter is and helps us both mentally and physically. Basically, when we laugh a bunch of chemicals are released in our bodies that make us feel better. One of the strongest of these chemicals is called neuropeptide-a joy inducing substance, which gets rid of any stress hormones and brings you into a blissful state. In addition, it causes blood vessels to expand and increase your blood flow just like when you exercise. If you ever wanna feel kind of depressed or want some exercise then go watch some SNL or 30 Rock I guarantee you’ll feel a whole a lot better. Looking back, Aristotle stated that babies must laugh by the time they are forty days old to have a stable mental health. Realistically, it’s more like ninety days, but laughter is incredibly significant to all of us. When you add it up, the average person laughs for about 4 to 6 minutes a day. However, since the beginning of the 20th century we have started laughing less and less. And this has a profound effect on us. When not enough of these joy-inducing chemicals are released into our bodies we slow down, become less healthy, and more depressed. One response was an outbreak of laughter clubs all around the world. By 2011 about 8,000 of these opened up in 65 different countries. The idea of this is mostly from India, but it spread around to many cities in America, including New York, and to Europe and even China, the country that actually laughs the most in the world. Basically, in these clubs people meet wherever they’d like and they just start laughing. It’s not funny at first, but again, laughing doesn’t only come from humor. These clubs have brought people with severe depression back to their normal lives, all through the inarticulate, clumsy act of laughing.
Let me conclude by saying laughter is one of the most profound ways that humans communicate, It comes from many different things and it is really all about social interaction, and laughter is the best medicine. So go out there and laugh a little, if you hear something funny or you don’t, don’t think. Just laugh.
Jeremy Uys, Age 14, Grade 9, Beacon High School, Silver Key