Albert Nerenberg, creator of a documentary about contagious laughter (Laughology) and pioneer in the active laughter movement, has been involved in laughter yoga, laughtercize, laughter parties and laughter competitions. Here, he explains how you should laugh as much as possible — even if you have to force it.
Q: What is a laughter party?
A: A laughter party has a specific formula: People are gathered around a dining room table, and then certain contagious laughter triggers are applied. It’s based on the idea that human beings have been gathering in tight circles and laughing for eons. If it’s done right, people will often laugh for an hour straight. They’re fantastic fun. You can do it with complete strangers and have a blast. I’ve done laughter parties in New York, Tokyo, and London. And they were all great. The laughter party phenomenon basically started in Toronto.
Q: How does laughter bring people together?
A: In lots of strange ways. First, laughter bonds. They say: “The people with whom you really laugh are your friends.” The science is quite intriguing here. Laughter is a mirror behaviour and people who laugh really hard together will often, at that moment, resemble each other in an uncanny way. The moment is called “the limbic lock”.
Secondly, if you’re at work and you hear a bunch of people laughing, you have an evolutionary need to go find out what they’re laughing at. Probably to make sure they’re not laughing at you. That’s why when you’re laughing at the office, someone will almost always come over and say: “What are you guys laughing at?”
Thirdly, we’ve evolved to be able to recognize the laughter of friends at great distance. This suggests that knowing whether our friends are in trouble, or are feeling good, really matters to us.
Q: Is forced laughter as beneficial for us as natural laughter?
A: I don’t know if there’s a key difference. But the forced laughter question is very important. In Laughter Yoga, Laughter Parties and Laughercize, people use forced laughter to trigger authentic laughter. Forced laughter, plus eye contact in a relaxed setting, generates real laughter. Frankly, it’s amazing. The idea is that laughter is so contagious, that even faking it will make you laugh, if you do it with other people. This is a breakthrough because it means you can laugh any time you want and get the benefits. So while forced laughter may or may not be as fun or as healthy as the real thing, learning these techniques allows you to laugh way more in life.
Q: Is laughter a sign of happiness or can the activity make us happy?
A: Laughter can change our moods. There’s remarkable new research that shows we can affect our moods and happiness much more than previously thought. For example, the way you start your day, can really affect your life. If you mope around groaning about how bad your life is first thing, your day will likely unroll in an unpleasant and irritating way. If you make an effort to laugh, smile and connect with people early in your day, you end up with a more positive and resilient biochemistry. Laughter is a bad mood override; it has the ability to metabolize stress hormones. Smiling is a mirror behaviour. So when we smile more, we’re more part of the tribe, so to speak. People who smile more get more smiles back on average. But it has to start somewhere. What’s new is that there’s some evidence that it’s possible to culture optimism and happiness even if you don’t wake up with it. And maybe that’s something to be happy about.
Q: Do you have a laughter prescription for our readers?
A: Two words: laugh more.There are more opportunities to laugh all around us. I personally like laughing at myself. Just go for it when you get the chance. Next time your kids or someone makes you laugh, don’t hold back. Just lose yourself in it. It’s good for your heart. And laughter does in 10 seconds what mediation does in 30 minutes. It brings you into the moment. And usually you’ll find it can be a pretty great moment. Plus you’ll bond, and maybe for a second forget all your troubles. And by the way, there are no side effects and laughter is free.