Humour is a serious business.
By Deepak Bhatia
A day without laughter is a day wasted!”
Charles Chaplin
What is ‘laughter’?
The Oxford dictionary defines laughter as the act of making sounds and facial movements expressing amusement

However, “laughter” is not a laughing matter! The Olympic champion athlete, Usain Bolt’s, success mantra is laughter, according to his mother. At home they talk about things which will make him laugh. The result is there for all to see.

Here is a funny story :

Once upon a time there was a king. In the king’s court was a jester. This jester was good at making puns to make people laugh. He became very proud of himself, so much so that one day he threw a challenge – “Give me a subject and I will make a pun on it.” There was a smart- alec in the audience who took up the challenge, and said, “The king”. Immediately, the jester responded, “The King is not a subject!”

The jester’s reputation was intact, but when the King heard about the jester making a pun about him, he was very annoyed. “Hang him!”, he shouted. However, when the time came for the hanging, the King thought of the many years the jester had kept him amused, and so he relented, but on condition that he should not make any more puns. But when the king’s decree was conveyed to the jester, he could not restrain himself. He said, “No noose is good news!” And they hanged him!

We have all heard the saying, ” Laughter is the best medicine”. In fact, there is a regular column of the same name in The Readers’ Digest magazine, ‘Laughter, the best medicine’.

Well, Jim Stovall, author of The Ultimate Gift and other books, says that

“Laughter is good medicine for the soul. Our world is desperately in need of more medicine.” And he also says, “If one can laugh in the face of adversity, one will be happy throughout life.”

In one of the episodes of the TV show, Satyamev Jayate, Aamir Khan had introduced elders who were active, achievers and an inspiration to others. One very fit gentleman, who went on hikes, mountain climbing and para-gliding, gave this recipe to be followed after retirement – “Eat one-fourth (of your former diet), drink double the quantity (of water) and laugh four times as much as you used to”.

There is a Tibetan proverb which tells us as much:

“The secret to living well and longer is : eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure.”

In fact, there are laughter clubs in many cities. The Laughter Club movement was started by Dr Madan Kataria in Mumbai on 13 March 1995. He is aka “The Guru of Giggling! The activity of the members of the club is just to laugh out loud and for long, and this removes all the tension, elevates the mood and makes the participants feel happy and light. If they wish, they can stand in a circle and take turns to come to the centre and tell jokes.

According to the American Heart Association, laughter balances your stress hormones, reduces inflammation in your arteries, and increases HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol. These effects last for at least 24 hours. These are reasons enough to have a good laugh.

It is difficult to determine exactly how many muscles are involved in smiling or frowning as there is a wide range of facial expressions that might be considered a frown (also known as a scowl) or a smile. It is commonly believed that it takes 43 muscles to frown, but only 17 to smile. By another count, frowning requires 11 muscles while smiling requires 12. This method of counting the number of muscles used in generating a facial expression does not take into account the energy consumed by each muscle or the individual variability in facial muscles.

Laughter yoga

Coming back to Dr Kataria and his wife Madhuri, co-founder of laughter Yoga, as yoga practitioners they saw the similarities between laughter and pranayama exercises, and incorporated elements from this ancient form of yoga into laughter yoga, including the deep breathing exercises now used between laughter exercises.

Laughter yoga ( or Hasyayoga ) is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. Laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughter yoga is done in groups, with eye contact and playfulness between participants. Forced laughter soon turns into real and contagious laughter.

A laughter yoga session may finish with “Laughter Meditation”. This is a session of unstructured laughter whereby participants sit or lie down and allow natural laughter to flow from within “like a fountain”.

To Dr Kataria’s knowledge, it was the first time that laughter therapy had been put on a public platform, where anyone could participate and laugh for 15-20 minutes in a group, without paying a single penny. He describes this practice, in part, as, “a beautiful package of stimulated and simulated laughters”, such as:

Silent laugh with mouth wide open
Jumping laugh with mouth closed
Medium laugh
Cocktail laugh
Arm swinging laugh
One metre laugh – this was invented by a member who was a cloth merchant
Ho-ho-ha-ha laugh
Humming laugh
Lion laugh
Argument laugh
Dancing laugh and
Gradient laugh

Each “laughter” session lasts for about 30-45 seconds. Between “laughters” members practise deep breathing, and neck, shoulder, and stretching exercises. The different laughter exercises, deep breathing, and stretching are similar to many yogic asanas.

The closing technique adopted after a laughter session is that the anchor person will recite a sentence, and the other members will respond in agreement, thus:

“We are the happiest people in the world.” – ‘Ye-ee-s.’
“We are the healthiest people in the world.” – ‘Y-e-s.’
“We are laughter club members.” – ‘Y-ee-s.’

Slowly, the idea spread and similar clubs were set up in many areas of many towns, such as Bangalore.

World Laughter Day

11 January 1998 went down in history when more than 10,000 participants from laughter clubs all over India laughed together at Race Course grounds in Mumbai, to tell the whole world that we need to take laughter seriously. The outstanding success of the programme was the result of excellent dedication of several Laughter Clubs. The enthusiastic participation by thousands of members proved that these Laughter Clubs are not a laughing matter.

There is much laughter in films and on TV. Some of the types of comedy to be seen are: Sit-com – i.e. situation comedy; slapstick; mime; Charlie Chaplin, Laurel-Hardy type of gag comedy; Rolling On the Floor Laughter ( ROFL ).

A situational comedy can be – a light and humorous drama with a happy ending

or a humorous television programme based on situations that could arise in everyday life.

The full definitions of slapstick are:

a device made of two flat pieces of wood fastened at one end so as to make a loud noise when used by an actor to strike a person. – This was used by clowns and jokers in circuses. Perhaps it is still used.

a comedy stressing farce and horseplay; e.g. the famous and popular Laurel and Hardy style of comedy, full of visuals and gags.

Rolling On the Floor Laughter (ROFL) is a term applied to a selection of
TV shows such as :

The Big Bang Theory
Two and a Half Men
Everybody Loves Raymond
Friends, etc.-

Humour in poetry

Poetry can be quite amusing, too. It may not make you burst out with laughter, but it can surely bring a smile to your lips. Here are a few samples.

Low-Tech Computing
by Vernon Waring
My new computer’s quite the gift
And one I truly covet
With all the latest features
Who could help but love it

I’ll surf the net at breakneck speed
As if I’m in a race
There is no end to what I’ll do
Launched in cyberspace

My new computer’s quite the joy
I’ll savor it from dusk till dawn
Now, all I need to find is
The switch that turns it on !

Then there are limericks,
which are verses of five lines in the rhyming pattern aabba.

For example –
A remarkable bird the pelican,
His mouth holds more than his belly can.
He holds in his beak,
Enough for a week,
I don’t know how the hell he can !

The Benefits of laughter are many.
Laughter
Boosts the immune system
Stimulates the production of lymphocytes (B cells which fight infection; T cells which attack viruses. Both originate in our bone marrow.)
Cuts tension, can be very calmimg
Reduces stress
Lowers blood pressure, increases vascular flow
Reduces pain. A good laugh is accompanied by the release of endorphins. That is why it is said – Anything for a laugh !
Eases fear and anger
Can determine how we control our response to bad situations.
We have heard the advice – Laugh it off.
Can help us recover from shock
Allows human beings to connect. Animals do not laugh – chimpanzees and hyenas excepted )

Ways of laughing and reasons to laugh

There are many ways in which people may be laughing : with a slight smile, or a broad smile, with an amused laugh, a full-throated laugh, or uncontrollable laugh, or even a laugh which brings tears to your eyes.

People may laugh for many reasons. After hearing a joke or a funny story, witnessing a funny incident, remembering something which happened in the past.

They may laugh at others, or they may laugh at themselves.

I would like to close with a word of caution.

It is good to laugh. It is good to laugh with others, but it is not good to laugh at someone else’s expense.

It is not advisable to make fun of others, if they feel offended.

Laughing at others’ expense is not funny.

Even the honourable Supreme Court has set up a committee to examine whether Sardarji jokes can be banned, because some people find them offensive.

Those of us who have seen the Hindi film, “Zindagi Naa Milegi Dobaaraa”, may recall Hrithik Roshan’s outburst at Farhan Akhtar when the latter threw away his mobile phone because he was annoyed that Hrithik was too pre-occupied with work when they were on holiday. “That was not funny !”, Hrithik had exclaimed.

Categories: Social