Essay: Humor and Health: The Evolutionary

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[. . .] In my own, personal life, I have often found humor to be a great method of stress relief. Whenever tensions are high at work, cracking an innocent joke is a wonderful way to diffuse a potentially uncomfortable situation. Similarly, amongst friends and family, I find that no matter how angry we might be at one another, provided we can laugh at ourselves, things don't seem so bad. It is not necessarily the content of what is said -- in fact, a silly joke can work just as well as a clever one -- but rather the mutuality of laughter that is important.

While laughter may be a universal construct it is important to note that not all societies have the same etiquette for laughter. For example, one anthropologist noted the extremely expressive style of the Mbuti tribe when they laugh: "they hold onto one another as if for support, slap their sides, snap their fingers, and go through all manner of physical contortions" in a manner which would be considered overly demonstrative in our culture (Smith 2008). There are also places where it a social faux pas to laugh, because of the context, such as during a serious ceremony, film, or when someone is giving a lecture about a non-humorous topic. Breaking the taboo of when it is considered 'correct' to laugh can be very uncomfortable and actually cause social ostracism.

This suggests that there may be another element at play in laughter: the social connection that must be there before the laughter occurs. If laughter is not permissible between two persons, it is unlikely that there is the relaxed, comfortable and socially beneficial connection that may also be interrelated to the lowering of blood pressure, heart rate, and release of endorphins that laughter produces. The absence of the ability to laugh may thus function as a 'danger signal' and a warning not to be too relaxed and to remain in 'flight or fright' mode. Laughing can break the tension sometimes, but in very fraught and inappropriate situations this type of 'release' may actually create more trouble than inhibit it.

The fact that laughter has proven to be so physically beneficial has caused some people to use it as a form of actual therapy, in which a 'safe space' is created for people to laugh, often in group settings. This has also been called 'laughter yoga' and there is a growing number of yoga practitioners in India who have adopted this as part of their spiritual practice: "a form of laughter therapy called Hasya Yoga (hasya means laughter in Sanskrit) that combines deep, controlled breathing and stretches with various types of forced laughter" (Bokur n.d.). Although the idea of 'forcing' someone to laugh may seem counterintuitive, much like forcing a smile can lift someone's mood or 'forcing' yourself to go to a party can result in feeling good because of the social connections fostered by such actions, so can forced laughter. Ultimately, a lack of sociability, not 'forcing' emotions seems to be the most damaging thing to human health. A recent study found "those with poor social connections had on average 50% higher odds of death…than people with more robust social ties" and people who are willing to laugh with others and who laugh more may be better able to form such critical social ties -- and pass on their genes to the next generation as a result (Blue 2010).

References

Blue, L. (2010). Recipe for longevity. Time Magazine. Retrieved:

http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2006938,00.html

Bokur, D. (n.d.). What's funny? Yoga Journal. Retrieved:

http://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/298

Mora-Ripoli, R. (2010). The therapeutic benefits of laughter in medicine. Alternative Therapies,

16 (6): 56-64.

Smith, M. (2008). Laughter: Nature or culture? International Society for Humor

Research. Retrieved: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2022/3162/Laughter%20nature%20culture1.pdf

Van Vugt, M. (2013). Laughter really is the best medicine. Psychology Today. Retrieved:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/naturally-selected/201210/laughter-really-is-the-best-medicine

White, L. & Jackson, S. (200%). What's funny? Psychology Today. Retrieved:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/culture-conscious/201205/whats-funny [END OF PREVIEW]

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