Laughter is the best medicine, unless its not

I have a Friday night ritual that involves sitting down and watching TV with the sole/soul purpose of laughing. It’s my preferred choice of intoxication. We all laugh, in fact laughing is our first form of communication, we laugh before we can speak. It is interesting when you find yourself doubled over in hysterics and the person beside you staring incredulously with a look on their face that reads “what is she on?”

Well actually I have been prescribed an ancient Greek remedy! The word humour/humor has its roots in Latin and is related to the ‘balance of fluids’ that control human health and emotion. I have to agree, if I have a good laugh I feel amazing, but too much of a good thing and I lose bodily functions I would rather not lose control of – breathing and bladder control. Seriously, there are genuine physiological benefits such as increased endorphins (natural happy buzz chemicals) and a reduction in stress hormones.

Not everyone has the same taste in what tickles their funny bone. Going back and watching old TV and movies reveals how socially and culturally constructed humour is. I often chuckle at personal adds where people declare they have a Good Sense Of Humour (GSOH) – according to who? But I suppose it is a valued quality – so why? Why do we care if people can laugh?

I think it’s a bit of a shortcut to knowing someone on an intimate level. For me this is the ultimate form of intimacy. The psychological, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of self are revealed through laughter – you are essentially fully naked. It is honest and cuts through layers or labels of identity that don’t really matter in terms of ‘who we are’. I see it as an energetic experience that is felt at a very deep level, we become closer to the other person and less guarded. They ‘get it’ – they get you.

But it’s not quite that simple unfortunately. You see,
humour requires a degree of harm ‘wrongness’ or offense. Or exposing either of these. Sad but true and hilarious. In Stranger In A Strange Land (Robert A Heinlein), the main character Valentine Michael Smith, is a human raised on Mars. He has NO sense of humour when he arrives on Earth and does not understand laughter or why Earth raised humans laugh. When he finally works it out he announces:

“I’ve found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts so much . . . because it’s the only thing that’ll make it stop hurting.”
“I had thought — I had been told — that a ‘funny’ thing is a thing of a goodness. It isn’t. Not ever is it funny to the person it happens to. Like that sheriff without his pants. The goodness is in the laughing itself. I grok* it is a bravery . . . and a sharing… against pain and sorrow and defeat.”
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grok

Smith is an intense character but as fictional as he is, the observation is spot on and rather revealing about the level of consciousness we are at as a species. Smith although biologically human, had never laughed because; if a ‘Martian’ ever invoked any of these in another they would ‘discorporate’ themselves…hard to explain just read the book (it’s not a movie – yet – so you can’t cheat!).

I’m also not so sure about particular cultures of humour within professions that develop as a way of dealing with difficult and distressing events and trauma. Terms such as ‘surgeons humour,’ are a bit of a contradiction and whilst could be seen as healthy ‘off-loading’ has the potential to dismiss and minimise peoples experiences who might be involved.
My line of work is inextricably linked with this sort of phenomenon. So I understand people need to find a way to be less affected by horribleness but sometimes wonder about the effect of this in terms of anethetising ourselves too far and forgetting we are dealing with people. When it is that sad, hard and difficult – just let it be that! Laughing it ALL off denies a healthy balance of sensitivity and respect with a need for self-care.

Laughing at ourselves we could do more of. I know when I’m doing this my ego gets a bit of a spring clean. It goes back to intimacy and to be in touch with our own frailties, idiosyncrasies and a willingness to explore these without a sense of shame.

So if I was to put a personal add in with ‘GSOH’ I might qualify that by indicating – I think I am very ‘punny’, like candle lit dinners in shrubbery’s and ‘always look on the bright side of life’.
If that makes sense then you ‘grok’ me.

Yes laughter probably is the best medicine, and could be prescribed more – it might just depend on what the ‘dis-ease’ is and the dose.

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