When the World Grows Dark – Laugh!

I had an startling exchange with a friend the other day….when I opened our conversation with a Facebook funny to mark the upcoming World Laughter Day (May 5), she interrupted me with a heartfelt cry of “How can you make jokes at a time like this!”

Wow. The passion of her response stopped me in my tracks: who hasn’t asked that question as the headlines grow darker? But the truth is, as Robin Williams once said, “Comedy can be a cathartic way to deal with…trauma.”

I mean, just think about a world without humor…where Robin Williams’ wild wit never left us breathless with laughter, or Tina Fey never took the wind out of Sarah Palin’s political sails. Where Stephen Colbert, John Anderson, and D.L. Hughey never pointed up the absurdities of the political scene, or Swami Beyondananda never made life lessons divinely funny.

A world where you could never laugh until you cried, or where a well-timed quip never turned a crying jag into a choke and a watery giggle.

Because, you see, all the best comedians know that laughter truly is the other side of tears. To be human, we need both, and both are healing.

In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine famously tells the story of Saturday Review editor-in-chief Norman Cousins, who responded to a terminal diagnosis by locking himself in a hotel room with films of Candid Camera, the Marx Brothers, and stacks of funny books….and slowly laughed his way back to health.

That was the start of a whole new field of medicine called psychoneuroimmunology, which studies the way our thoughts and feelings affect the chemicals in our brain which affect our bodies’ chemical responses to bacteria and viruses. According to the mental health nonprofit site HelpGuide.org, laughter…

  • relaxes the whole body for up to 45 minutes
  • boosts the immune system by decreasing stress hormones such as cortisol  and increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies
  • triggers the release of endorphins – hormones which promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain
  • protects the heart by improving the function of blood vessels and increasing blood flow

These benefits are  essential for everyone, but especially for us On The Go, High Performing, High Achieving Women, who need something to help decrease our feelings of stress and overwhelm and bring more ease into our lives.

Indigenous peoples understand the healing properties of laughter, even in the midst of grief. Many Native traditions celebrate the role of the Trickster – the blundering “backwards teacher” who keeps the People laughing and demonstrates to the children how not to act. Interestingly, the Trickster shows up over and over again as a creator or savior figure – which shows the cosmic power of humor!

And then there’s the transformational Trickster: I remember the story of a memorial sweatlodge for a beloved elder, where the participants shared memories and groaned and sobbed their grief, until the ceremonial leader solemnly tricked them into tears of laughter with an obscene practical joke. Irreverent? Definitely! But it gave them the energy they needed to pick up and move on.

So for you On The Go Woman,  how can you tap into the laughter on World Laughter Day? Here are some ideas…and remember, all of them are even more fun when you’re trying them with friends!

  • Load up on comedy DVDs and laugh the night away. Whether you’re a fan of the Looney Tunes, Three Stooges and Marx Brothers, Robin Williams, Seinfeld, Garfunkel & Oates, or Chris Rock, binge to your heart’s content. You’ll be surprised how good you feel in the morning!
  • Try Laughter Yoga  – the healing practice of learning to laugh for no reason, without jokes or comedy setups. Your body responds the same way to real and fake laughter – and most times, the fake chortles soon turn into genuine guffaws!
  • Get together with friends for Game Night – whether you’re playing Charades, Pictionary, Taboo, Cranium or Scattergories, add some extra-silly twists to get the group giggling.  Or my favorite, to balance my doing with being, is Backwards Talent night, where everybody competes with tone-deaf singing, over-the-top acting, or klutzy dancing – the silliest act wins! (Watch out,  cause if you are playing with me I can be pretty silly)

The ancients had a saying: the devil cannot abide laughter. When we find and affirm Joy even when things are dark, we’re choosing wellness, light, and life… helping others to do the same….and making a positive difference in our world.

In the comment section below please share how you will tap into laughter today.

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