Laughter

By Molly Lizzio, MA, LPMFT

Your stomach is cramping and the air is escaping your lungs faster than it’s coming in. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to speak or breathe, and tears are escaping out of the corner of your eyes. When was the last time you laughed that hard?

They say laughter is the best medicine, and I have to say I agree. Laughter has numerous physiological benefits that can and will improve health and quality of life. When there’s laughter the body experiences a release of endorphins, the muscles relax, the immune system gets a boost, and it can help with blood flow which works towards good heart health. Our stomach is cramping and the air is escaping your lungs faster than it’s coming in. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to speak or breathe, and tears are escaping out of the corner of your eyes. When was the last time you laughed that hard?

And those are just the physical benefits. Let’s think about the last time you had one of those great belly laughs that caught your breath. I bet you remember who you were with or what was being said that you found so funny. Laughter creates connection.

When the energy is as high as it is with a great belly laugh it tends to leave an imprint on us, one we don’t soon forget. This energy is so powerful that merely recalling the sensations of a wonderful moment like that can bring the current energy level back up without discussion of the finite details. In other words, the act of remembering the laugh is enough. For that moment we’re transported back to the laugh, and its healing properties begin to work again from that encapsulated memory.

What I’ve noticed about laughter however, is that like anything else in life it needs balance to be effective. Where laughter can often lead us to trouble is when we muck up that wonderful pure high energy laugh, with a negative energy like jealousy, contempt, disgust, or self loathing. Sometimes humor can take a mean turn.

People often tend to joke about their own insecurities, which if you think about it doesn’t seem to make sense. “Here is my vulnerability- let me pick at it in front of people”. Put like that it sounds like a bad idea, however this form of picking at insecurities serves as an important defensive mechanism.

We recognize that piece of ourselves that we are insecure about- and are convinced people will eventually spot it- if they haven’t already. So we think let’s control the narrative and put it right out there. Let’s make it seems like it’s no big deal. So we joke.

Women in particular lean this way with their humor.  In the early days of women in stand up comedy stars like Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers were famous for it.  Perhaps it made men of that age more comfortable with a woman on stage. They sent a message: don’t be threatened by me- I can take a joke- in fact I’ll even do it at my own expense. As a culture women often do this. We make ourselves smaller for the comfort of others.

Take a moment to notice how your female family and friends joke with one another. A woman speaks to another woman about how fat her thighs are, how bad of a cook she is, how much she drinks, etc. It’s a double-edged sword of comradery and comfort, versus self-deprecation and continued negative self talk.

The harmless thought is that when we share the truth about who we really are it allows other people the grace to be themselves. This level of authenticity allows for people to form real connections and find comfort and acceptance. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being true to one’s self- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The problem crops up when we focus on a certain subset of those truths, such as vulnerability, and mentally filter out all the wonderful positive things. But it’s hard to show our confidence, our bravery, our pride. The lesson for women especially is that it would make us conceded. Which to many might be worse than the negative insecurity they bring up instead.

Try to go an entire day without making fun of yourself. It’s actually harder than you think. And the day could seem a lot less funny if all the material for the normal quips is off limits. It can give a moment’s pause to the easy targets for easy laughs, and it forces us all to elevate our conversations and our humor. If I no longer make other people or myself the butt of a joke what in the world can I joke about?

My answer is that life is funny enough. Look for the truth in life that others can relate to: the silly, the bizarre, and the relatable. Be discerning in the fine line between poking fun, and being cruel. Somehow people have gotten the message it’s acceptable to be mean spirited if you’re only talking about yourself.

Here’s the thing, as I said before laughter creates and carries strong and long lasting energy; attaching that kind of energy to dark or hurtful insecurities of yourself or someone else will feed those thoughts and ideas.

Be mindful of what laughter is making stronger. What needs strength is hope, love, empowerment, enthusiasm, and joy. Dare to be brave enough to put the positive and wonderful things in the spotlight. Let the sweet qualities of laughter show the best of you.