The Third Humor Habit: Laugh More Often and More Heartily

“What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.”  (Yiddish proverb)

If you’re new to this website, read the earlier articles under “Senior Humor Training Exercises” and then come back to this one.

The March 2 article focused on the Second Humor Habit—cultivating a stronger playful attitude in your life.  If you followed my suggestions in that article and spent as much time as possible engaged in some kind of physical play activity during the past week, you are almost certain to have noticed two things: you were laughing more often than you usually do and were also finding more funny things popping up in your daily life.   This playful frame of mind is where you sense of humor lives and blossoms; so you want to keep that in mind as we move on to develop other Humor Habits.  That playful attitude is much more important than you might guess—don’t neglect it!

Now you may be thinking, “Why is laughter included as one of the 7 key Humor Habits?  We all know how to laugh.  And besides, I thought this was about humor, not laughter.”  The main reason for including laughter in this Humor Training Program is that the present state of research does not allow a clear determination of which/how much of the health and resilience-building benefits of humor come from the mental experience of humor vs. the physical act of laughter.

Some undoubtedly come from the act of laughter itself.  For example, we know that a good belly laugh triggers muscle relaxation (the #1 goal of all stress management techniques), is energizing and just makes us feel good/better (humor and laughter activate known dopamine-based reward or pleasure centers in the brain).  And many of us are just not good belly laughers—either because of our temperament or because we just have difficulty expressing emotion in general.  But you CAN learn to be a good belly laugher!

Many Zen Buddhists believe that if you start the day off with a laugh, the rest of the day will be just fine.  A long standing tradition in many areas of India includes laughter exercises (often in the context of yoga).  Dr. Madan Kataria has carried this tradition to the rest of the word over the past 15 years in supporting the development of laughter yoga clubs.  In the USA, we have long heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine.”

As with all of the other Humor Habits discussed here, only very general guidelines are offered for improving your sense of humor.  To get the maximum benefits from the 7 Humor Habits Program, you may want to go through the program in a systematic fashion, as discussed in the manual for the program, Humor as Survival Training for a Stressed-Out World.

How to Become a Better Belly Laugher

The main idea here is to do whatever you need to do to get yourself laughing more than you typically do.

  1. Seek out situations where other people are laughing (parties, comedy clubs, etc.) and force yourself to laugh harder and longer than you normally do.  You’ll feel uncomfortable in doing this at first, but it will gradually become more natural.  The artificial “forced” laughter will gradually (over a week or two) begin to merge into genuine laughter.
  2. Consider checking out a laughter yoga club.  These are now all over the world, so you may find one in your community.
  3. Remember, the main emphasis of the 7 Humor Habits Program is on humor.  My own belief is that the benefits to your overall health and well being are stronger when you combine the experience of humor with the act of laughter.  Laughing “for no reason” will give you some of these benefits, but your world of joy, happiness and fun open up much more strongly when you cultivate your biological heritage of humor—playing with your mind.

Reminder: If you haven’t already done so, take the Sense of Humor test presented in the February 3 article.

For more detailed and systematic guidelines for boosting this Humor Habit, see the manual for the 7 Humor Habits Program in my book, Humor as Survival Training for a Stressed-Out World.

Copyright owned by Paul McGhee.  This article may not be reproduced without written permission granted by Dr. McGhee.