Laughter is no joke

It was weekly ritual. The giant bucket of popcorn was balanced precariously between the cinema seats. Even with my brother’s monster appetite there was no way we’d make more than a small dent in it, but that wasn’t the point. It was time to relax. Sweat beads slipped down the shiny glass beer bottles in the drink holders. I knew I wouldn’t have more than a few mouthfuls of mine or I’d have to leave the movie to go to the bathroom, but I could count on my brother and his giant bladder to finish it for me. He slipped off his shoes and slid his feet down the sides of the empty seats in front of us; it looked so comfy that I tried to copy him but my feet only found air. He laughed at me while flicking popcorn into his mouth, and I pushed his shoulder carelessly.

We looked around the movie theatre as we waited for the ads to start and were surprised at the crowd. We were at the sequel for an incredibly violent foreign marital arts film, a real niche thing, yet the spectators looked to be couples on dates… “Do you reckon they think because it’s subtitled it’s gonna be a drama or something?” We smiled at each other, already keen to see the reaction of the movie-goers as much as the movie itself.

It did not disappoint. The other movie-goers were totally silent as fists started flying and bodies piled up on screen. One lady covered her eyes at one point, while my brother and I were bursting with laughter. You didn’t come to The Raid 2 to take it seriously, after all. When the baseball bat came into it, I was in hysterics. I could barely see the screen through the tears of laughter streaming out of my crinkled up eyes, but the rest of the theatre was mute. My brother was laughing at my laughter and that just made me laugh harder. I had a full-on fit of the giggles. It must have taken me a good 10 minutes to fully suppress my laughter after that and we still joke about it years later.

Those movie-trips and the laughter they inspired were like therapy for me. I was in a bad flat at the time and dreaded going home after work. I think my brother probably cancelled many of his own plans to hang out with me and cheer me up, and I’m so grateful. Because it is simply impossible to be stressed out when you’re laughing your head off.

Laughter decreases stress hormones, boosts immunity, relaxes your muscles and decreases pain. It triggers the release of endorphins to lift your mood. It provides distraction, a good release and perspective on life. In fact, a Norwegian study found that people with a strong sense of humour actually live longer than their more serious peers. Plus, it’s totally contagious. Have you ever started laughing because everyone else is, even though you don’t know what they’re laughing about?

I think we pick up on the vibe of those around us. At uni I was in a study group with one particular lady who was, for lack of a scientific term, a stress-beast. It wasn’t until she was away sick one day that I realized how much her stress affected me. I felt so much lighter with her gone. The opposite is true of people like my brother. He’s so easy going and funny that you can’t help laughing when you’re with him. He just gives off that sort of energy. And I really do believe that it’s great for both his health, and the health of those around him.

It’s all good for me to say “go out and laugh today” but what if you just can’t? What if life just isn’t very funny for you right now? Well, fake it till you make it. It’s detrimental to fake being happy all the time, but a fake smile every now and then may actually help you to focus on the positive. And fake laughter is supposedly pretty much physically indistinguishable from real laughter, so your body and mind may get a great boost from it even though you’re faking. That’s what researchers at Georgia State University found in an older adult’s exercise class, at least. Plus, fake laughter often turns into real laughter after a while.

I might watch some comedy tonight, or read a funny book, or just goof-off with my son. Because I think we should put a bit of effort into doing something each day that makes us laugh. I have a feeling the more we laugh, the more likely we are to laugh, if you get what I mean? And I can think of nothing better than being the kind of person who brings joy to others by being joyful themselves. Someone like my brother. In fact, maybe I’ll watch The Raid 2…

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