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Laughter: Nature's best bet for the blues

We hear laughter in hospital waiting rooms, church sanctuaries, funeral homes, and even at accident sites. These are not funny places. Is it possible that some people actually laugh in serious situations or even at times when they’re down in the dumps? Amazingly, many of us do. We laugh when we really need it most if we let the body do what comes naturally. Laughing to lift gloom is like screwing up your face to take medicine and finding out that it actually tastes good. "Laughter through tears," has been called the perfect emotion. A society becoming more depressed needs a natural, effective solution to combat woes and laughter is that solution.

Everyone would be in less of a funk if they laughed more. Unfortunately most people tend to stop laughing when they feel the blues, and when really down, they stop doing anything emotional at all. They don’t laugh; they don’t cry; they don’t get angry. They are totally and miserably numb. Human beings really need to feel their feelings, and when we don’t for any length of time, we become miserable. Feeling glum, tired, and generally negative, a common complaint in today’s world, is the result of anger and sadness which we haven’t allowed ourselves to acknowledge, much less feel.

Our laughter, while valued as a good thing, is unfortunately undervalued and underestimated as a natural way of taking care of ourselves. Mother Nature did not provide us with laughter just for grins. She gave us laughter to heal our bodies and our emotions so we can cope with life as we experience it. This has been true since Adam and Eve first giggled in the Garden, and is still true today. Why then do we persist in overlooking this natural medicine which bubbles up from within? We just haven’t recognized its importance. How can something which feels so good actually be good for us?

None of us would deny the benefits of modern medicine. We turn to it willingly and without question. In fact, we almost seem to urgently require some kind of medicine for everything that ails us, from the common headache to the "perils of gas" following particular kinds of meals. We use aspirin to clear our heads and Beano to clear the air. There is almost a frenzied quality about our demand for drugs for every condition, and depression, even mild depression, is no exception.

Some degree of depression is a growing problem affecting more and more people as our lives run at faster and faster paces. Ironically, the sadder we are, the harder it is to keep up. The emphasis on how to lift us up out of the dumps is becoming increasingly drug oriented, a fact which could be reason for concern. Most of us are media educated about depression and therefore get a limited focus on what to do about it. The treatments recommended are drugs, brain altering techniques like electric shock treatments, and sometimes psychotherapy. So we can numb it, electrocute it, or talk it to death. Seldom is the media focus on the reasons for feeling bummed out. There is an occasional reference to an unproven opinion that depression is genetic in origin. Of course, laughter has never even been mentioned as a solution for the "blues."

So, if you don’t medicate your feelings with an antidepressant, what can you do to feel better? You can work at keeping yourself laughing. Laughter will release anger you may be holding in your body and ease that sick, negative feeling that’s so hard to shake. It will clear your mind, lift your mood, and help you cope. Unfortunately, it will not change your problems or minimize their importance. It will, however, change you so you can deal with your problems and relate to them from a more realistic, less overwhelming perspective. It will also help you feel pleasure and fun once again.

It doesn’t seem like laughing more should require work, but it does. We have to actively strive to break free from controls on our laughter which have unconsciously developed since childhood. We need to laugh till our tongues hang out, and to do that we must learn to hear our inner voice telling us to smile and laugh instead of hearing it say, "Wipe that smile off your face!" Silliness needs to become positive and permissible and laughter something we do while we are being productive and responsible in our serious, grown-up lives. We must learn to play again in that special way that is particular to all human beings, not just the young. Consider for a moment starting your day by making silly faces in the mirror while getting ready for work. You can feel joy in your own playful silliness, a skill honed to perfection in childhood but left on a dreary inner shelf somewhere in the interests of maturity.

You can fight the blues by forcing balance into your life. You can do this by adding pleasure in every nook and cranny that opens up. It’s okay to feel as good as you can. You don’t have to worry. The serious stuff will always take care of itself. If you reacquaint yourself with your ability to approach life in a spirit of play, you will laugh a lot more. Imagine that! All those heavy, serious things that are dragging you down will lighten up and often drop away. Playing with painful things is a major source for our laughter. As human beings, we know this deeply and instinctively, and we were all able to do it as children. All we have to do to regain this special human quality is grant ourselves permission to play.

Perhaps you haven’t really noticed but for some reason there always seem to be some aspects of the ridiculous in everything, no matter how serious it is. Did you see Grandpa’s pants drop during Grandma’s funeral? How about your friend driving away from the gas pump with the gas hose still in the tank? If you let yourself look for these things and appreciate them, you’ll see them everywhere. Then you get to laugh about them. If you seek out the humor in your everyday life, it will be there. None of us can live with other people without discovering amusement in both expected and unexpected places. People are funny whether they mean to be or not.

By the way, if you’ve given up the fun toys can bring, you can always get it back if you want to. It’s not a dumb thing to do. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that toys are entertaining, stress relieving, and just pure, ole fun. The key to good adult toys is that they require no mind at all to play with and that they help you laugh. "Tickle Me Elmo" is a toy that can tickle you to death.

If you seek out companions who laugh a lot, you’ll laugh a lot more because laughter is contagious. Try to encourage yourself to watch funny movies and TV programs. I Love Lucy and M*A*S*H reruns help lots of us laugh no matter how many times we watch them. Read amusing stories when possible or listen to comedy on audio tapes in the car. If you’re laughing, you aren’t as likely to find yourself driving at ramming speed in a fit of road rage.

Finding the things that spark your sense of humor and enjoying them often offers the reward of ongoing laughter. If for some reason you can’t do this and all else fails, just fake laughter. Enjoy "pretend laughter" by making the sounds of laughter and moving your body as you laugh. Your body will benefit and your perspective will change. If you do it enough, real laughter will kick in. Then you’ll stop feeling stupid, or you will stop caring if you do.

When it comes to a choice between managing the blues with medication or healing them by allowing our bodies to take their natural course through laughter, the best thing seems to be obvious. If you can, ease up on yourself. Allow yourself to feel your feelings and then let go with your laughter. Life will take on richness, and your capacity for joy will ignite. You will then be hot on the trail of happiness, a natural state of being when we feel joy. So—why not do yourself a favor right this very minute? Throw back your head and laugh for absolutely no reason at all.

©1999 Enda Junkins

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Common questions about laughter

Don't we laugh because we're happy?

No, we don't. We are actually happier because we laugh. Every time we laugh, we heal, That's why we feel better after we laugh, not before.

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Contact Information

Enda Junkins, LCSW, LMFT, BCD
PO Box 684, Ouray, CO 81427
Telephone: 970.325-0050
ejunkins@laughtertherapy.com