The simple act of laughing has the ability to convey meaning on an equal level to that of the spoken word. According to some experts – in terms of human development, laughter is the biggest milestone subsequent to crying.
Former stand-up comedian Stephanie Davies is one of the countries leading laughter experts, and founder of Laughology, a one of a kind organisation that teaches public and private sector workers how to enhance their potential using humour and laughter.
According to Davies, the basic difference between humour and laughter is that the former doesn’t always have to be funny and is often used to fit into or to cope with social situations, and the latter is a response.
“A child knows that laughter is positive and learns that actions which get a laugh are positive. He or she will repeat those actions or mimic them from other people and start to develop an awareness of humour based on the reactions of those around them.” Explained Davies.
Considering the fact that laughter has been around since the dawn of humanity – the academic study of laugher and humour is still a very new and relatively unexplored area. However, there is now a growing body of evidence suggesting its benefits on both a personal and social level.
The Cousins experiment
An excellent example of the profound effect of laughter on physical health is the well-documented battle against spinal disease of writer Norman Cousins.
Cousins was given a one in 500 chance of survival back in 1964 and instead of staying in hospital for treatment he opted to check into a hotel where he would administer his own form of treatment – large doses of vitamin C and a regime of positive behaviours involving laughter, love and joy.
Cousins proceeded to watch as much comedy as he could, and found that over time, laughter stimulated certain chemicals in his body that permitted him to sleep for several hours free of pain. After persisting with his unique treatment for some time, his disease went into remission.
Post Cousins experiment and many scientists have made similar discoveries. For example, an experiment carried out at the University of Maryland unveiled that in individuals with bad cardiac health, laughter dilated the inner lining of blood vessels, subsequently stimulating blood flow.
The infectious effect – could laughter benefit your community?
In addition to the personal health benefits of laughter, it would seem the effects could also work on a much wider scale. A project in an underprivileged area of Bradford based upon Davies’ laughology model has promoted resilience within the community and has helped residents to cope during difficult situations.
Davies and her team helped to train the town to become more positively engaged with one another in a bid to make them feel more resilient, more supported and ultimately to have a friendlier community.
“If we laugh we feel better about a situation, if we see something in a different way and find the humour in it we can almost take a mental step back from it and not be so negatively emotionally involved,” said Davies.
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