This month's issue of Ode magazine (for intelligent optimists) is The Laughter Issue. The cover shot is Sarah Hussein Obama - our 44th president's grandmother.
Ode's editor-in-chief Jurriaan Kamp wrote that he chose Obama's image over that of a giggling baby because adults, especially in Western culture, laugh too little.
"(John) Calvin probably had the best intentions, but his legacy still hangs like a haze over many Western countries. How many people do you see laughing while wandering the streets of New York, Amsterdam or London? In our daily lives, everything has to have a purpose and lead to concrete results. A bit of laughter is quickly considered a waste of time. Meanwhile, photos abound of radiant faces in the midst of abject misery in Africa, Asia and Latin America."
"The articles in this special issue show how Calvin was wrong: laughter is by no means a waste of time. It's healthy, relaxing and essential. ... May hearty laughter help lighten your load. After all, when it comes down to it, as Mark Twain said, 'The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.' "
The issue has articles ranging from laughing meditation (check out John Cleese reporting on laughter yoga on youtube) to "Lighten up for Enlightenment" and awakening to joy. In "The Medicine of Mirth," exploring some of the health benefits of laughter, writer Mary Desmond Pinkowish attends a practice of laughter yoga in Manhattan, where you will be encouraged to "fake it" until it becomes real. "Laughter blunts stress and pain; hearty chuckling increases levels of the 'happy' brain chemicals known as endorphins. ... It reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that's tied to several health problems."
This doesn't mean you have to be happy all the time, which is not realistic. Life throws you reasons to be frustrated, angry, and sad, but laughing daily will help you deal with the stress and negative emotions when those waves threaten to knock you off course. According to psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, interviewed for "The Science of Happiness" in The Sun (another fantastic magazine), "positive emotions tell us not just what the body needs, but what we need mentally and emotionally and what our future selves might need. They help us broaden our minds and outlook and build our resources down the road. ... If you focus on day-to-day feelings, you end up building your resources and becoming your best version of yourself. Down the road, you'll be happier with life. Rather than staring down happiness as our goal and asking ourselves, 'How do I get there?' we should be thinking about how to create positive emotions in the moment."
Laughter is contagious, so I can understand how the yoga laughter practice works. Even looking at this photo I found on flickr, I start to laugh along with this complete stranger.
It helps to laugh with someone, as I learned early on, sitting in church with my sister, shaking with suppressed laughter. I'd just have it under control, but if I glanced her way and saw her shaking, holding back the belly laugh, I'd be off again.
Lately movies haven't been doing it for me, I walked out of "Baby Mama" and "I Love You, Man." Fart jokes are too obvious, I like to be surprised by a guffaw. I love physical comedy and word play. Some of my favorite laugh out loud moments are from television, and thankfully most of them are online. The Carol Burnett Show never disappointed, and one of my all time favorites is the Tim Conway and Harvey Korman dentist sketch. Conway is a genius here; and watching Korman crack up is half the fun. I love it when the improv gets away from the actors and they can't stop laughing in the scene.
30 Rock is hy-lar-ious -- one of my favorites is "Apollo Apollo," where we see how Kenneth views the world. But I don't know that anything tops The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode, "Chuckles Bites the Dust," where Mary loses it with inappropriate laughter at the funeral for Chuckles the Clown. I can't find this clip online, if anyone knows how to find it, let me know!
What makes you laugh out loud? Please share! I need to laugh more.
(Photos: Ode Magazine and Harishaa, flickr.com)