from: Greetings from Witness Protection!
by Jake Burt
Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Publishing Group, 2017
I used to think being a Children’s Librarian was the funnest (an acceptable use of “fun” as an adjective macmillandictionary.com) job anyone could have. But, what if you could be a laughter scientist? People like Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist at University College London and Robert Provine, a laughter researcher, do just that.
According to Sophie, we use laughter to express emotion. It’s much more effective than a verbal explanation. Think about that for a minute and you’ll know what I mean. As a matter of fact, people the world over interpret laughter as being spontaneous or communicative. Different parts of our brains light up when we hear someone, probably a friend, in the midst of an uncontrolled belly laugh, than when we hear someone’s controlled, polite laugh. In the second instance, the parts of our brains that light up involve communication. We’re looking for meaning in the laughter. In the first instance, it is the area that creates and maintains relationships that lights up.
All people all over the world are really good at making that distinction. Laughter, it turns out, is just as universal as music.
Each person’s laugh is as distinct as their sneeze. (I’m still working on using the singular they-1/18/22) What do you think of when you hear the words guffaw, chortle, giggle, snicker, titter? Who makes those sounds when they laugh like that? We need so many words for laughter to distinguish laughter’s many uses.
And just like yawns, laughter, for better or worse, is contagious. I took my almost grown daughters to see The Secret Garden when the movie was released in 1993. It was my mom’s favorite book and I read it to the girls when they were young. The story is heartwarming and the movie has some very touching moments. At the very end, when Colin shows his father how well he is, mostly due to his friendship with Mary Lennox, people all around us started sniffling. When I began to search for a kleenex for my younger daughter, my older daughter caught my eye. She chortled and tried to swallow it. That was enough to set me off and my younger daughter, too. We tried to control our fit, but the sniffling sounds were too much. We laughed as quietly as we could. Not at the movie. Not at the emotional people.
We laughed to express the bond we felt with each other. Inappropriate laughter? Oh, yeah. Could we help it? Oh, no. Sophie Scott says we are more likely to “catch” laughter from someone we know well than someone we hardly know at all. We did, and our bonds deepened.
Hearty and deep laughter is healthy. We expel lots of stale air when we exhale huge guffaws and belly-laughs. We push out the stale air and make room for fresh air to reach deep into our lungs. Most of us ordinarily use about 25 percent of our lung capacity. But not when we laugh!
Oxygen moves through our respiratory system to retard the aging of human cells. It helps relieve headaches, fatigue, and stress. Oxygen boosts the immune system and purifies the blood by removing the toxic wastes in the blood stream.
Laughter is a Yoga practice. By breathing deeply and exhaling forcefully, we can concentrate on our breath and move to a meditative and spiritual place. Laughter can physically improve our lung function, lift our mood, and increase our ability to focus.
But what about tickling? Is it good or bad or just tickling? Here are a couple positive comments I found. Charles Darwin called tickling a mechanism of social bonding. And, science shows we burn calories when we laugh. Laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day could result in losing about four pounds in a year. So, don’t give up your gym membership (as long as you’re vaccinated, boosted, wear a mask, maintain social distance, and clean your hands thoroughly and often).
We associate tickling with laughter, good times, and closeness between the tickler and the ticklee. There’s nothing as glorious as the sound of a baby’s raucous laughter. Some kids like it. Some grown-ups do, too. And some really don’t. Tickling can be a little scary, especially if the person being tickled has no say in when the tickling stops. Or if they can’t catch their breath. In different periods of our history, tickling was used as a form of torture. People were sometimes tickled to death. Tickle with caution, and permission.
You can’t tickle yourself. Tickling is your brain’s response to a surprising stimulus. It’s true. My feet are very ticklish. If I try to tickle them, I feel the sensation, but it doesn’t make me laugh.
Then there is the nervous laughter I couldn’t seem to control when I was an angsty teen. Familiar comments included, “Wipe that smirk off your face.” And “Oh! You think that’s funny?” Of course, I did not.
And how about the evil laughter of villains who want to control the universe? Bwha-ha-ha! Or the Wicked Witch of the West who cackled warnings to Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz?
Laughter communicates more than language can. It fosters understanding among strangers and acquaintances and cements relationships between friends and loved ones.
So meet up with friends and family and belly-laugh, guffaw, and bellow. You’ll all be glad you did!
-—stay curious! (and laugh as often as you can)