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A sense of humour for a joyful life

Who doesn’t enjoy a good, hearty laugh? We read funny stories, watch comedy movies and TV shows, and even listen to prank calls on the radio–anything to tickle our funny bone.

A sense of humour can make us forget our problems, even if only for a few moments, and make us happy. “In the reception of humor, we take in information (something someone says or does, or something we read) through our eyes and ears, process the meaning of this information, and appraise it as non-serious, playful, and humourous,” writes University of Western Ontario psychology professor Rod A Martin in his book The Psychology of Humour: An Integrated Approach.

Going by Martin’s explanation, enjoying humour not only kindles our cognitive mind, but also affects our emotional state. In response to humour, the reward network in the limbic system of the brain gets activated. This results in a pleasurable emotional response which is expressed through smiles, chuckles or laughs. As Martin puts it, “Whenever we laugh at something funny, we are experiencing an emotional high that is rooted in the biochemistry of our brains.”

Children laugh up to 300 to 400 times a day whereas adults laugh barely 15 times a day

By helping us experience an ’emotional high’, humour contributes to our psychological wellbeing. A study Humor and Laughter may Influence Health published by National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states, “While therapies such as relaxation and exercise require significant time and commitment, and therapies such as herbs or massage can be expensive, use of humour can be easily implemented and cost effective.” Likewise, several other studies emphasise the importance of humour for stress relief and managing anxiety and depression. This is because humour helps release happy hormones called endorphins.

In the book The Laughing Cure: Emotional and Physical Healing, comedian and psychologist Dr Brian King explores how humour and laughter increase immunity, lower blood pressure and even help deal with lifestyle disorders like diabetes. So, it isn’t just our mental wellbeing that improves with humour, but also our physical wellbeing. When this is the case, we should ideally laugh more. Alas, we don’t. “Children laugh up to 300 to 400 times a day whereas adults laugh barely 15 times a day,” says Laughter Yoga expert Dr Madan Kataria. “This is because, children do not have any conditions for laughter. They laugh because they are intrinsically joyful. But as we grow older, we start looking for reasons to laugh,” he explains.

Try as we might, finding humour in every situation is not that easy. Not all of us have the talent to look for humour in mundane situations.

Perhaps, all we need to do in order to laugh more is change our perspective. How we perceive situations can make or break our day. Take comedians for example. Unlike many of us, they manage to see humour in simple, ordinary, everyday events and circumstances. Bangalore-based comedian Sanjay Manaktala says, “Comedians have trained themselves to see the world differently. Comedians look for humour in everything, so we see the word differently than most. You see the road being dug up again and worry about a possible traffic jam. Whereas, I see an opportunity to make us all laugh at how we’re all screwed. I am better person today than I was when I wasn’t a comedian.”

Try as we might, finding humour in every situation is not that easy. One, not all of us have the talent to look for humour in mundane situations. Two, not all of us find miserable situations funny. So how do we go about it? Dr Madan Kataria has a solution. According to him, our body cannot differentiate between stimulated and real laughter. He adds, “Over the years, I have discovered that humour and laughter form a cyclical process. The more we laugh (whether we find something funny, or not), the more we’ll develop a sense of humour within us.”

Many think humour is the cause and laughter the effect. So, it is good to know it works the other way around as well. By merely cultivating the habit of laughing (as an exercise), we can improve our sense of humour! In fact, even the father of psychology Williams James is known to have once said: “We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh.” In a nutshell, humour and laughter can reduce stress, improve physical wellbeing, and help face life’s problems with a more positive attitude.

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