Laughter is one of the greatest gifts bestowed on humankind. And while certain other animal are capable of it, laughter is part and parcel of what makes us human. The sound of laughter is often associated with our warmest memories. (A teacher once asked her students to describe the most beautiful sound in the world, and one little boy replied, simply, “My mother’s laughter.”)
The gift of laughter is lavished on the young, and is an invaluable asset throughout life. It has been scientifically proven to actually improve one’s health. While exactly what it is that triggers laughter may vary from individual to individual, almost all laughter is positive, and has its roots in surprise and incongruity: something said or done in a totally unexpected/unforeseen way can triggers a physiological reaction of delight. The ‘funny bone’ is the only ‘bone’ located inside the brain.
Laughter can be visceral…the reaction to a pratfall, for example…or intellectual, as in puns and when the expected is suddenly turned on its ear. Irony, satire and even sarcasm can provide fodder for laughter. While there is such a thing as derisive laughter, it lacks the basic element of humor and therefore doesn’t truly count. To laugh with someone is positive; to laugh at them is negative. And laughter not based in positivity is not truly laughter.
I’m honestly sorry that I do not laugh nearly as much as I used to, or want to. I would give anything for a good, old-fashioned, scrunched-face, unable-to-stop, tear-streaming, gasping-for-breath belly laugh. I truly miss it terribly. I’ve given a considerable amount of thought to why such laughter tends to diminish to some degree as one grows older. One obvious reason is that because one of the most common triggers of laughter is surprise, the longer one lives, the fewer things are surprising. A second reason is that repetition tends to dull the sharp edges that jab the funny bone to invoke laughter. The toddler’s giddy delight in a rousing game of “Peek-a-boo,” diminishes with repetition, which eventually dampens both the surprise and the delight.
A very funny joke is of course repeated. But the more often one hears it, the less it “tickles the funny bone.” Common situations which lend themselves to jokes also are muffled by repetition. Once wildly popular sitcoms have the tendency to become “less funny” as time goes on. Often I suspect, it is not the show that has been dulled so much as the viewer’s automatic reactions. The older one gets, the more one hears the same—or only slightly modified—joke until the factor of surprise is totally diminished.
A shared a sense of humor is often one of the key elements of friendship. It was a major factor with two of the best friends I’ve ever had. When I was a teenager, my best friend was Lief Ayen. Had it not been for our identical senses of humor, we were so different I doubt we ever would have been as close as we were. To our parents’ dismay, we would spend hours on the phone laughing hysterically.
Later, in college and beyond there was Russ Hogan, whose intelligence sparked a caustic wit which never failed to have me doubling over with laughter. Both Russ and Lief are now sadly gone, but just remembering the laughter we shared still warms my heart.
College was, by itself, one of the happiest times of my life, and happiness inevitably produces laughter. But it was the laughter shared with friends which enriched the experience exponentially.
Because I have reached an age where surprise is harder and harder to come by when it comes to humor, I find of late my sense of humor has taken a more caustic turn, as demonstrated in many of my ubiquitous posts on Facebook. However, I still delight in the incongruous and the bizarre. And the antics of children and animals still seldom fail to provoke it.
The world would be a far better place if the sound of good-natured laughter could increase to the point of drowning out currently overwhelming hate-filled babble of politicians and pundits.
Okay. So, two penguins walk into a bar……
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).