We live in a serious world. There is as always, war, famine, death, disease, murder and other horrible things happening every day. Even our personal lives can be filled with a litany of is- sues and calamities that keep us with a scowl on our faces, and give us very little to laugh about. Couple that with a culture that is be- coming increasingly enamored with being offended and you have people and groups that are very slow to laugh. I believe that we have entirely lost our sense of the importance of humor, and indeed many of us never had that sense at all. Laughter is deeply important, but it seems to me that a great many, if not most, people I meet tend to look at humor and laughter as some kind of luxury, rather than a basic action of intense importance.
I would assert that laughter is important in so many different ways. First, it is one of the best ways to express, and more importantly, feel good in a world seemingly designed to stifle laughter. While this idea that “you don’t laugh enough” may seem like an arbitrary observation by some overly giggly kid at Hope College, it seems, statistically, whether I am right about laughter in particular, something is up with us these days. Consider depression rates since the 70’s according to a medical paper on NCBI.Gov, “From 1980 to the present, the up- ward trajectory of depressive diagnoses has been especially apparent. Between 1987 and 1997, the proportion of the U.S. population receiving outpatient treatment for conditions called “depression” increased by more than 300 percent (Olfson, Marcus, Druss, Elinson, et al. 2002). In 1987, 0.73 persons per hundred adults in the United States were treated for depression, but by 1997, these rates had leaped to 2.33 per hundred. While 20 percent of patients in outpatient treatment in 1987 had a diagnosis of some kind of mood disorder, most of which were major depressive disorder (MDD), depressive diagnoses nearly doubled by 1997 to account for 39 percent of all outpatients.” Depression rates have gone up by 300 percent since the 70’s, a startling figure to say the least. It makes sense however. It seems to be that success and image have become the driving force for today’s culture, something that often leaves little room to snort because you’re laughing so hard. In- deed, most of the “laughter” I see presented is some kind of “candid” laughing of friends posed for a picture. All this goes to say, people seem to be very happy, and maybe they are, but I feel as though people laugh far less than ever before.
Which brings me to my main point, learn to laugh. I think it is a common misconception that laughing must always be some kind of uncontrollable reaction to comedy or absurdity. Laughter is far more than just a reaction to some- thing funny, but don’t take my word for it. In Psychology Today, Robert Provine, a researching psychologist, wrote an article explaining what laughter is and why we do it. He says, “Most people think of laughter as a simple response to comedy, or a cathartic mood-lifter. Instead, after 10 years of research on this little-studied topic, I concluded that laughter is primarily a social vocalization that binds people together. It is a hidden language that we all speak. It is not a learned group reaction but an instinctive behavior programmed by our genes. Laughter bonds us through humor and play.” He goes on to explain much more about the psychology behind laughing, but it boils down to the idea that laughter is an expression of positive, playful and creative emotions.
Thus, laughter is far more than a luxury, it is something all humans do, and need to do. Again, learn to laugh. In- stead of looking with disdain at events or statements, look at them for their humor and joy. Fake it even, if you have to. I have found that even if I laugh consciously, it always ends up with me laughing for real, and feeling as good as if the whole thing was genuine. Truly, the more you look to laugh, the more you’ll find yourself laughing. No matter what, we don’t laugh enough. However you can make it happen, mske that change that for your- self. Laughter is one of the few things that all humans do, and it’s one of the few things that can have such a positive impact so quickly, so why wouldn’t we do it as often as we can?
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