Who doesn’t enjoy a good old belly laugh? Most people, if asked what they enjoy most it is spending time with friends and having a laugh. And why wouldn’t you? It’s just that sometimes it can feel as though laughter moments can be a bit thin on the ground, that there are unnecessarily long gaps between laughter. Did you know that, on average, a child laughs 300 times a day while an adult laughs only 17 times a day. Where does all that laughter go? I’m sure we’ve all got our own story on that one.
Except there is more to laughter than just cackling in the playground. I know that I got into trouble at school pretty much every day for laughing and as soon as they would tell me to stop it would turn into that belly aching, tears rolling down the face, uncontrollable laughter. It really really annoyed the teachers, perhaps they should have just joined in but then their quota was already down to 17 times a day whereas I still had a whopping 300 laughs a day to get through. I have memories of being collapsed in a heap, helplessly laughing with my friends and the crosser the teachers got, the more hysterical we got. Actually, it must have been fairly annoying… What they failed to point out was that laughing stimulates both sides of the brain and this enhances learning. So, if they had just left us to it, I might have come out of school with some exams to my name.
Smiling is a mild, silent form of laughing. Not quite so in your face and obvious but it still has the feel good factor and everyone feels better for being smiled at – unless it’s a real leary, scary ‘I’m coming to get you’ smile. I like to play Smile Tennis when I’m walking down the street. You smile at someone and then they smile back and then you watch them smile at the next person and you never know what a difference it might make to someone’s day. I haven’t been arrested yet…
Apparently, laughter lowers blood pressure, it reduces stress hormone levels and can boost the immune system. It also, allegedly, uses the same muscles as when you intentionally (?) exercise your abdominal muscles and it is much more fun than sit ups. It is a cardio workout and burns the same amount of calories as going for a sturdy stomp or ten minutes on a rower. You can even combine them and have a good laugh while you’re walking and then you come home super healthy and happy. It triggers endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain killers and it boosts T cells which fight off sickness. So laughter really is the best medicine.
But there’s more to laughter than that. When I have been in Calais and in Greece with refugees, one of the first things that struck me was the amount of laughter and how quick people were to laugh. Children coming off of the boats, having had the most horrific experiences, staring death in the face, were laughing within minutes of arriving on the beach and, any child’s laughter is infectious, they would soon have everyone else smiling and laughing. Laughter is incredibly powerful in managing difficult situations and reducing tension when emotions are running high. Laughter puts everything into perspective and I have never met people who are so able to put everything into perspective as the amazing refugees that I have met over the past few months. I have been bowled over by people’s resilience, their strength for their families and friends, their will for a future and, above all, their ability to laugh. We could all learn a thing or two from that.
I was in the camp in Calais again last week and spent an evening with a friend weeping with laughter over nothing in particular apart from laughing at the fact that we were laughing. Laughter brings people closer together, we must all have a friend that we can’t wait to see because we have a good old laugh with them. I spent an evening in a tent with a family who have possibly the cutest 3 year old in the world. He laughed and it was impossible not to laugh with him. His mum was saying that everyone wants to spend time with him, to be around him, because he is so quick to laugh. Heaven knows, he doesn’t have a great deal to laugh about in that place but, despite the abject poverty that surrounds him, that little boy is the richest person I have met in a long time. He is bursting with love and laughter and is surrounded by people who only wish the best for him. To the point that they are willing to put themselves through a living hell to get him to a better place.
I met a man with a broken foot, another casualty of trying to make the crossing to England. After explaining how he had done it, we were all laughing about it because laughter helps you deal more comfortably with stuff that could otherwise be overwhelming. I picture laughter as an image of a dog coming out of the water and shaking all the water off. Laughter shakes off the droplets of shame, humiliation and sadness. It is powerful stuff. Laugher is sociable, you generally do it with other people. Laughing wildly by yourself is a whole other ball game. The social power of laughter is immense, laughing together as a collective rather than laughing at someone or at someone’s expense. Laughing at someone is cruel, it’s unnecessary and incredibly unpleasant to be on the receiving end of. Laughing together creates a bond and intimacy that you carry with you forever.
But the best thing about laughter? It sounds the same across all cultures and it transcends all language barriers. The sign in the photo, ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity Ends Here,’ can be found at the exit of the camp at Calais. And it’s true, it can feel like liberty, equality and fraternity ends when you exit the camp because there it feels as though the laughter ends. Back into the world that seems to be filled with opinion rather than laughter. There is a saying, ‘The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion,’ so maybe instead of everyone spouting off about who is allowed to go where and why, how about just smiling and laughing with people. How about meeting up with someone with whom you have absolutely nothing in common, not one word of the same language and laughing together? I can’t help feeling that the world would be a better place for it.