Immense gratitude we lavish upon those who can make us laugh, be it from a face-to-face or group interaction, a movie, sitcom, stories, book, YouTube clippings, own thoughts, or any other source. Amongst emotions/ feelings such as happiness, delight, contentment, ecstatic, jubilant and so on, that communicate an inner state of a person, laughter is the external indefensible manifestation of a body that is tickled pink due to the impinging humour. Individual threshold of laughter may vary as someone is more prone than others to erupt into a guffaw at the slightest activation and there are others who may perhaps be punctuated with etiquette and propriety and who merely elicit a smile. Regardless of the sophistication of one’s receptive humour, it is difficult to hold oneself at all times particularly when universal products are unleashed upon them such as the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Tom & Jerry. Here is a case in point link to prove this surmise.


George Vaillant, the eminent psychiatrist categorized humour under mature defense mechanisms, the other three being pathological, immature and neurotic defense mechanisms. Instead of getting agitated, incensed and enraged at the incoming sensory stimuli, one learns to sublimate it with humour, as one grows older. Not everyone uses this disposition hence his or her proclivity to anger and embitterment that eventuate from critical interpretation of their life. All of us have met people around us who interpret the same stimuli as unbearable, distressing, anxiety ridden and so on. A few others seem to cope better by using tolerance, forgiveness, courage, patience etc. and then we have one or two in our midst who just burst with pragmatism and are able to see the funny side of things. I am not discounting the effects of severe trauma, bereavement and other critical life instances that keep people away from laughing but in spite of such experiences and loss of buoyancy, there are many who delight in life with appreciable hilarity. This is a form of mature  coping.

Alan Alda who plays Hawkeye Pierce, the lead protagonist in the television series M.A.S.H has such a funny deportment whilst others around him wallowed and lamented woefully about their circumstances. In spite of the stresses of being at a front line surgical unit at a war-mongered Korea, he makes his environment bearable with his lighter and breezy view on life. Something becoming humorous is not attributable to the creator alone, it becomes humorous after the intended emotions or laughter is invoked in the recipient. The perception of the recipient plays a huge role in categorising something as humorous. In contextual humour, someone could say something to alleviate his/her misery but it becomes humorous to the viewer due to the prevailing context. Again in M.A.S.H, Major Charles Winchester is a character who finds his environment repugnant and is constantly angry at his tent mates. Every line that Winchester utters  to communicate his disgust,  due to the way he constructs it,  seems humorous to the audience.  The German term ‘Schadenfreude’  means pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. In German it means ‘harm-joy’.  The whole Tom & Jerry humour is built upon the misfortune of Tom as he gets clobbered, slammed, mauled by various contraptions, plummets to the earth from heights and gets catapulted into space. Uproarious laughter it elicits from children.


Humour can also be explained as an occurrence when thought travelling in one direction is met by a thought travelling in a different direction. Humour is the cognitive ability to perceive something as mind-bendingly funny, and laughter is the body’s physiological response to this stimulation.


Is it pre-meditated for any specific intent? An incontestable objective is to elicit laughter, which consequently creates well-being. Most get together meetings, thanks giving, celebration, festivity and gala is about exploring this capacity to laugh, share affection, thoughts and ideas. It is not the creator of the humour alone who is accorded with the accolade ‘good sense of humour’; people possessing the ability to experience humour, be amused, smile or laugh also belong to the above classification. Apart from its primary objective of eliciting laughter, humour is also used to dissolve conflict, eliminate embarrassment or awkward situations, used as a condiment to keep the audience fastened to the speech, lecture or presentations and to also bond with children.

Whilst humour has an implicit gentleness to it, laughter is conspicuous and apparent. It ought to be and if it isn’t then it is called implosion, i.e. turning the smile inwards or containing it.  Laughter is an involuntary response to external or internal stimuli. One can contain it with suppression to a certain extent as mature people seem to do but people such as Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, Michael McIntyre and likewise others in respective cultures, with their exclusive genre of humour, have slivered erected barriers and invincibility of many.


Rod Martin and Patricia Doris (2003) developed the Humour Styles Questionnaire (HSQ) and their research made them categorize humour into four distinct types:

  • Affiliative humour: Used to enhance relationship with others in a social set up. It is positive and characterized with goodwill. Spontaneous creation of humour, occasional banter, witty remarks all these are characteristics of a person using affiliative humour. They network well, and savor better psychological stability.
  • Self enhancing humour: This is about having an amiable outlook towards life, laughing at oneself and taking existential challenges with a kind of lighter disposition. This is the emotion regulating kind of humour. Such people are amused by the absurdities of life but in a positive way.
  • Aggressive humour: Extensive use of sarcasm, put downs, ridicule, racist, sexist comments and so forth. It may elicit intense laughter from a segment of society but it belittles someone else. Men use such humour more than women. Bullying people have this attribute and they get a sense of control and power over others in a social/professional set up.
  • Self-defeating humour: This is humour directed at oneself and one exhibits disparaging aspects of oneself to gain laughter from others. Stand up comedy shows considerably use this kind of humour. Neurotics also use this as a defense mechanism to hide negative feelings about the self.


Though disputable due to its method of calibration, here are some interesting figures. The International Congress of humor found that laughter has reduced about 66 % –  82 % worldwide from what it was experienced in the 1950’s. In the 1950’s, people laughed on the average 18 times a day. Applying the percentage yardstick, this amounts to about 6 times a day today, which means that we are allow the environmental stimuli that we receive and convert it (with our interpretation) into some other form of negative affect that is not very good for our state. Laughter is not an indication of a state of well-being though habitual laughter with a degree of chronicity to it could indicate a happy mind. Laughter in essence is a momentary physical response that could linger on for a while based upon the intensity of humour. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a laughing person is contended inside or that he is unhooked from anxiety or occasional distress.


All these negative affects can exist in the mind yet momentary laughter is ineludible in human beings as well as a few species of primates such as chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans. Laughter doesn’t need a visual stimuli; deaf and blind can laugh and they do. Children laugh before they even speak. The laughter that we proposition in this blog for our understanding is neither the excessive elation associated with manic-depressive psychoses or mania nor are we going to immoderately concern ourselves with the dynamics of substance induced laughter such as alcohol, drugs or laughing gas (nitrous oxide) but the normal everyday kind of conversation induced cognitive laughter and applicable variations, which is healthy and augments preservation of our homeostatic equilibrium.


Since I have argued that laugher is a physical response, can over indulgence of it kill anyone? Yes it can and it has. Cataplexy is a kind of muscle weakness triggered by laughter, crying, terror etc. Excessive laughter can also cause syncope (fainting), arrhythmia and cardiac rupture, pneumothorax (collapsed lung) as well as aneurysm in the brain to rupture. Here are some instances from the past. In 1410 King Martin of Aragon died from a combination of indigestion and uncontainable laughter. On 24th March 1975 Alex Mitchell from King’s Lynn, England died laughing while watching the ‘Kung Fu Kapers’ episode of ‘The Goodies’. After 25 minutes of incessant laughter, Mitchell collapsed and died from heart failure. There are innumerable deaths due to laughter induced over-stimulation. Of course, if one has to go at some point in life, laughing one’s head off is a preferred way to depart in contrast to any other melancholic way to kick the bucket.



Gelos in Greek means laughter and Gelotology is the study of laughter and its effects on the body from a physiological and psychological perspective. So what happens when a person intensely laughs? We know that stress has the effect of constricting blood vessels thereby reducing blood flow. Laughter on the other hand causes expansion of tissues of the endothelium (inner lining of blood vessels) thereby increasing blood flow. Laughter provides the right impetus, sprightliness and health of the endothelium, which reduces possibilities of heart attack and stroke. Laughter induces our blood flow to increase and make its way past constricted vessels, it stretches facial muscles, and we breathe rapidly thereby sending more oxygen to the tissues. It is stated that ten to fifteen minutes of laughter burns 50 calories. Expanding it to its mathematical extremity, it doesn’t mean a stand up comedy show of about 3 hours will abstract 900 calories from the body, how convenient indeed!  Exercise and diet are still at the top of the heap when it comes to calorie reduction.



Laughter is not a luxury, it is mandatory and people who have the psychological state to experience it must not suppress it. Masking laughter is a health crime towards oneself. Awareness about this exist but we get used to our way of being as a habit. Laughing is unquestionably  therapeutic. Uncontrollable laughter being morphed into a smile is suppression of mirth. Ability to conjure humour and laughter from daily life is not the prerogative of a few. All of us have the ability but it may perhaps lie latent due to perceived calamitous position of our daily life. We must extricate our self from these encrusted layers of anxiety and re-interpret environmental stimuli that we meet with humour. If we are not the creator of this humour, we must at least have the sagacity to be the recipient of it as either way it enhances our state. Practicing affiliative humour is a better style in comparison to other types of humour. It is non-confrontational and non-marginalising. Yes once a while there could emerge a need to become wild, undomesticated and rambunctious, triggering usage of aggressive humour as in a picnic, pub or concert but this must be used only when absolute trust exist between the members of the group and with those who have developed a threshold of acceptance to such humour. There has to be reciprocity here as it cannot be uni-directional.

A laughing environment is contagious and creates a spiral effect. We do get enticed towards groups/ communities who laugh more frequently. Needless to point out, we need a crevice for other emotions too but for many of us, it may perhaps be unthinkable to be part of a group that has forgotten how to laugh. As Friedrich Nietzsche puts it, ‘Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.’ From my perspective laughter is not invented, it is an innate attribute however I agree with Nietzsche, ‘we do invent situations, instances, and interpretations that bring us to a position to extort laughter from within ourselves. A daily pledge to laugh with intensity can be made a serviceable phenomenon.




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