My dad, tall, fair complexioned, sandy-haired and blue-eyed, loved to laugh. He would laugh at the drop of a hat. He subscribed to a daily paper, the Savannah Morning News. The first page he would turn to was the comic section. When you could hear laughter erupting all over the house, you could be sure that he was reading his favorite comic strip Mutt and Jeff. Even in the fields, dad would often burst into laughter. When he was asked what he was laughing about he would reply “That Mutt and Jeff.”
Sometime and somewhere in man’s past, he learned to laugh. Something, even in his rugged caveman existence, amused him and he discovered that there could be a lighter side to his hard life.
People laugh for many different reasons: we might be happy, embarrassed or just being sociable. Although not really amused, we might laugh to fit in with our peers and go with the drift.
The foregoing reasons to laugh can be divided into two categories: the first one includes laughter that is caused by something, like when someone tells a joke. The other type is when we laugh because we want to, like when we are trying to socialize. Researchers are trying to figure out how we learned to laugh the way we do.
Science spends a lot of money and time researching laughter. Producers for the TV and movie industry spend millions on scriptwriters that can make us laugh. If you have the ability to make people laugh you can just about write your own ticket in life.
Gelotology is the study of laughter and its effects on the body. Researchers think that early humans developed the ability to laugh around four million years ago, but they could only laugh when an external stimulus brought it on because they could not yet control the muscles in their faces very well.
According to this theory, it was not until just two million years ago that early humans could control their facial muscles well-enough so they could laugh when they wanted to, and not just as a response to something else. It was then that they learned to use laughter to fit in with others or make others feel better or worse about themselves.
Humor and laughter have been a part of the human culture for ages. The benefits of humor are referenced many times in the Bible. In Proverbs 17:22, we find these words: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
King Solomon gave us one of the earliest recorded accounts regarding the healing power of humor and laughter.
The ancient Greek physicians prescribed for their patients to visit the hall of comedians. They would send their patients to the theater to be entertained as part of the healing process.
Early Native Americans had clowns that worked with their medicine men. They too realized the effects of humor and laughter in healing. The third most important person in the tribe was the clown.
In the 1300’s, surgeon Henri de Mondeville reportedly told jokes to his patients in the recovery room.
Throughout the centuries, court jesters were hired to relieve the royalty’s stress from their governing duties.
Across the ages, humor and laughter has been recognized for bringing joy and happiness as therapy to speed recovery from surgery; as a cure for depression; as a release from stress and tension, and the regaining of emotional equilibrium.
In the 1800’s educator, Richard Mulcater recommended laughter for those suffering from head colds.
However, the most significant recording of the benefits of humor and laughter comes from Norman Cousins in his book Anatomy of an Illness. In 1964, Dr. Cousins came down with a crippling and extremely painful inflammation of his body, which doctors diagnosed as Anklyosing Spondilitis. He did not accept his doctor’s death sentence. He checked himself out of the hospital, hired a nurse and moved into a hotel. Along with mega doses of vitamin C, he watched comedy movies such as Candid Camera, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and many other comedies. He later wrote: “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter has an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.” He recovered from the condition and spent twenty years teaching about the merits of humor and laughter in healing.
Experts now agree that laughter is good for you. It boosts your immune system, relieves stress, stimulates the heart, lowers blood pressure, and much more.
How long has it been since you were really tickled?
Stop brooding over things and have a genuine belly laugh today.