Those Who Laugh, Last
The “daily grind,” the day-to-day wearing down of our life force, can take a toll on all of us. Luckily, we possess a built-in and easily accessed way to overcome it: humor and laughter.
The loss of humor in modern society as a whole is due in part to losing our connection to our “core,” the natural elements of who we are. Our ancestors did not have distractions like cell phones, but they had each other, and laughter was a part of daily life. Most of the oldest people alive today agree that a sense of humor is critical to a long life.
Many of us are suffering from “humoropathy,” an apathy and indifference towards our sense of humor, which is especially common in adults. Research shows that children laugh 400 times a day, while adults laugh less than five. We replace laughter with worry, thus losing our connection with our human humor core. Our children are wonderful guides in this area. They live in the wonder of the moment, are curious and don’t take life too seriously. They explore freely and aren’t locked into negative past events. They just laugh!
Psychoneuroimmuninology studies (PNI) have shown that laughter produces a cascade of neuropeptides, the precursors to neurotransmitters, in the brain. These life-enhancing chemicals balance the stress we suffer every day. Research indicates that it doesn’t matter what triggers the laughter to get the health benefits, simply laughing is enough to stimulate your brain.
Cultural anthropologists have examined remarkable cave paintings of handprints to glimpse into the ancient mind. One can imagine the great source of merriment and laughter as paints were freely shared with others-even the most serious had to smile at their accomplishments. There is a clear spiritual sense of this connection with the core of the person: I am here connected with the others, we are living through the daily grind. We are connected to the core of ourselves through laughter.
It seems that laughter and our sense of humor are truly an ancient adaptation to get us through the day. It balances our difficulties with fun and releases a flood of neurotransmitters that protects us from the stress and strain of our hectic lives. The children know it, the elders have lived it and science points to it: laughter is crucial to our human connection and experience.
Ray is a psychotherapist, consultant and professor of psychology. He has published 11 articles and taught courses in positive psychology.