Laugh, cry or punch a wall? Go for the laugh

Calgary Herald, August 4 2018: We do live in interesting times, don’t we? They’re so interesting I deleted Twitter off my phone. It wasn’t to save hours scrolling through tiny heads yelling at each other (I try to follow both sides of every argument. It makes for a lot of shouting). Nope, it wasn’t the time. I deleted Twitter because it makes my heart race. The more I scroll, the higher the waves of frustration, fear and anger. So I deleted the app. No biggie I thought. I kicked Facebook off my phone months ago and haven’t missed it for a second.

I lasted five days. Twitter is back on my phone, sans a bunch of the shoutier tweeps. I didn’t miss any news during my hiatus — I actually managed to read a few of the Economists that keep arriving at my door week after week after week — but I did miss the one-liners, random goats and other shenanigans that make me spit my coffee out laughing in the morning.

All those laughs are good for you. As researchers try to determine the exact medicinal benefits to a belly laugh, gelotology — the study of laughter, not gelato — has determined that we’ve been yucking it up for millions of years, maybe since before we split from the apes. Who knows, maybe that’s why we split from the apes — someone laughed too hard when someone else slipped on a banana peel.

Other researchers have found differences between laughing at a chump with a banana peel (or say, the guy depicted in a giant British balloon wearing a diaper and throwing a temper tantrum), and laughing with a late night host making fun of said chump. “Laughing at someone and laughing with someone leads to different social consequences,” says researcher Dirk Wildgruber of the University of Tuebingen in Germany.

He and his colleagues looked at how the brain responds to three different kinds of laughter — joy, taunts and tickling — and they found that different yucks light up different bits. They also found that “complex social laughter” can be used to “to influence and modify the attitudes and behaviors of our social counterparts.” Not surprisingly, what you’re laughing about sends messages to the people around you.

And that’s exactly the kind of laughter that gives late night shows big ratings and gives me hope that we will dodge the dystopia. My fav part of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert is when his sidekick/bandleader, Jon Batiste, chuckles off camera during the opening monologue. Every time I hear his gentle laugh I think it’s all going to be OK, and so do millions of other people tuning in to Colbert.

“I really love this job because I get to approach the terrible things that are happening in America with jokes. And I feel better at the end of it,” Colbert told Variety in an interview last year. “People come up and thank us. One of my producers said: ’Oh, people use this show as an analgesic — ‘I feel so much better after I watch.’ ”

Laughing about the state of the world is like that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. And increasingly we need the former to take the latter. Comedians are “reassembling” the news to make it more palatable, Samantha Bee, host of Full Frontal, told the CBC earlier this year. “A lot of people here are journalists or come from a journalism background and I think that we’re all here together because we are obsessed with the news and similarly obsessed with comedy. Our two worlds are converging nicely.”

If it’s a laugh, cry or punch a wall kind of thing, always try to go for the laugh. Despair and anger don’t help us solve big problems but the release you get from laughing can calm you down so you can think more clearly.

“In all the things that we use to cope with the negativity and fear and all of that, laughter remains one of the simplest and most effective ways to release stress and create a more positive mood,” says Billy Strean, a kinesiology professor at the University of Alberta who studies the role of laughter in learning and well-being. “In the same way you want to make sure you get vegetables and fruits into your diet, consider getting some good news to help you feel more positive and inspired.”

A good guffaw releases endorphins, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles and relieves stress. Over time, laughter may even improve your immune system, relieve pain and combat depression. Laughing out loud at our wackadoodle global geopolitics will make you happier. Just ask the guy having the biggest laugh of all, Vladimir Putin.

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