You are having a laugh, right?
I am inwardly groaning; silently seeking a wall to gently bang my head off.
I’m cynical about the widely smiling woman who takes the mic to talk to us about the Power of Laughter… an outright rejection of whatever she is going to say before she even says it – yeah yeah yeah.
I got it.
It’s a dark and blustery October Sunday in Edinburgh – the wind is blowing a whoolie and it looks grim and grey out there.
I think it’s safe to say I’m not precisely feeling peace n love n joy.
I’m defended and resentful.
What does this have to do with the everyday ups and downs of my life?
This overly simplistic “laughter is the best medicine” stuff….
Come on. Really?
We cover “The Science Part”
Laughing lowers blood pressure, reducing the risk of strokes and heart attacks. …
Reduces levels of stress hormones …
Improves cardiac health. …
Triggers the release of endorphins. …
Produces a general sense of well-being.
It works your abdominal muscles …
As she talks, Jo laughs occasionally – warm and genuine. She is speaking as someone who gets this stuff, uses this stuff, wants to share this stuff and I can feel my curiosity piqued. I’m still hostile and rejecting in ways that surprise me, but I can feel a thaw at the edges and I’m pushing myself to open up:
Kids laugh around 200 times a day
Adults? Around 15.
How sad is that?
A quote hooks me:
“If Laughter can not solve your problems, it will definitely DISSOLVE your problems; so that you can think clearly what to do about them” Dr Madan Kataria ( Founder of the Laughter Yoga Movement)
Maybe I could do with some dissolution….
Now we are done with the talking – it is time for practice…..
We are asked to greet each other with laughter – take and shake hands, make eye contact and laugh….Now I begin to understand some of my hesitation – Eye contact? Laughing loudly and jollily directly to my teenage Goddaughter and then to a total stranger?
Oh Holy Hell….
This about as uncomfortable as I can deal with. I’m embarrassed. My face feels weird – a kind of rictus grin as I force myself to laugh – fake and awkward and contorted.
The noise is unspeakable – Hehehehehehehehehe. Hehehehehehehehe. Not at all my belly laugh, my warm laugh, my own laugh… something else entirely. Ugh.
This is somewhere on the excruciating scale.
I cannot do one or two of the exercises – my buttoned up, reticent Scottishness cannot relax and go with it – I just feel silly, fake and self-conscious. I’m slightly irritated – feeling cornered. This is stupid.
But then we are asked to sit quietly, feet grounded, hands resting on knees, eyes closed, and we are invited to just laugh to ourselves.
At the start I’m just silent….Still defended and annoyed. Then I hear other people laughing and it begins to infect me…..I hear myself chuckle, then chuckle some more, I hear the man beside me giggling to himself and it sets me off…. I’m laughing now… my laugh… not faked….
I hear folk sniggering, tittering, guffawing…. It kind of reaches in to me and I find myself losing my annoyance…. Then I realise I am properly laughing – my shoulders bouncing, my belly and sides starting to ache, I’m grinning widely….there is something of Muttley in some of the noises I’m making and that makes me laugh even more….
This is brilliant…. I haven’t laughed like this in I don’t know how long…..
The room is a cacophony – different laughs, different pitches, tones…..
There are tears in my eyes and I’m slightly out of control, but it’s lovely…powerful… shifting…
Then as naturally as it arose…. It started to ebb…. perhaps 5 minutes or so on….
When Jo invites us to quieten and takes us through a brief led meditation to ground some of the giddiness in the room, I feel renewed and a little spaced out. When this is done, I turn to the complete stranger beside me and we grin at each other and say “wow”. My shy Goddaughter is looking up and out – shaking her head slightly, but grinning and I’m delighted to see her look so happy….
At the end of the session, I go to the front to thank Jo. This buttoned up Consultant appreciates her gentle challenge.
What does all of this mean?
Am I going to start encouraging laughter in client meetings? Meh… maybe a little, but not necessarily explicitly… Look out, folks – I might sneak it in…
It is more that this has been a reminder that I can laugh and that when I do, I feel better… There is joy, release and connection here – it’s infection this happiness and laughter stuff & I would rather be around the Muttley Me than the locked down cynical one.
Good lesson. I’m thankful.
There is also learning in my own visceral and furious rejection of something – I see this in the folk I coach and consult with – the fear of stepping into something uncomfortable, the strangeness of experience when we are asked to surrender control – to go with something… even something as natural as laughter…
So I’m remembering to be respectful of others’ experiences – up to a point – but if, Like Jo, I know something, believe something, work with something, I figure as long as I am offering this with positive intent, I need to stay firm in my invitation & be a little relentless and provoking.
Ah. Yes. That.
Jo runs Laughter Club in Edinburgh as part of Laughter for Health – all profits are donated to charity. You might see me there one night… possibly….
Also: see the power of infectious laughter on a commuter train in Germany here