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Pamela Gerloff, Ed.D.
Pamela Gerloff

You're Not Laughing Enough, and That's No Joke

Can you get your daily count into the healthy hundreds?

The average 4-year-old laughs 300 times a day. The average 40-year-old? Only four.

When I first read that statistic, on a blog called Ageing Healthily, Happily, and Youthfully, I found the 300 number a bit high. But then I thought about my 5-year-old nephew, Bob. The other day I was sitting on a doorstep with his brother Joe perched on my lap, warming up after a run through the sprinkler. I asked Joe, "Do you know where Bob is? Is he in the sandbox?" (He was out of sight around the corner.)

There was a silent pause, then an explosion of laughter behind and around me, as Bob popped into view, grinning and beaming, his whole body filled with delight. "You thought I was in the sandbox!" he exclaimed, giggling, "but I was right behind you!"

Why that was so hilarious only a 5-year-old really knows, but it made me laugh too, just experiencing the delight of his joie de vivre. So we three—Bob and I, with Joe chiming in—laughed and laughed and laughed.

I suppose it could be just an urban legend that 4- to 6-year-olds laugh 300 times a day; I tried to verify the numbers but found no actual research citations. And other blogs on the topic have cited 15-20 as the average number of daily laughs for adults. No matter, really; the point is that children laugh way more than adults do.

And that ought to tell us something.

Laughter Enlivens Us

Norman Cousins famously chronicled the effects of his self-prescribed "laughing cure" in his book Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient (W.W. Norton, 1979, 2001, 2005). Cousins, who suffered from inflammatory arthritis, claimed that 10 minutes of hearty guffawing while watching Marx Brothers movies brought him two hours of pain-free sleep—and that both inflammation and pain were significantly reduced. Research since then has shown that laughter reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine; increases health-enhancing hormones (such as endorphins), neurotransmitters, and infection-fighting antibodies; and improves blood flow to the heart—all resulting in greater relaxation and resistance to disease, as well as improved mood and positive outlook.

Laughter Changes Us

... and in the loveliest ways. When we lighten up we feel more positive and optimistic, more hopeful and engaged. We're friendlier, more resourceful, more attractive, more radiantly alive.

Raising Our Laugh Quota

The day after I read the blog on laughing, I decided to up my "laugh quota." Hardly had I made that intention than I participated in a conference call in which two other people spontaneously broke into extended laughter. Experiencing a sense of unity and connection with them, it occurred to me that, hey, if we're all One (an insight the Possibility Paradigm tends to lead to) then maybe I can count other people's laughter as filling part of my own laugh quota.

Think about it: If others around you are laughing, you're absorbing their upbeat vibes. It's kind of like second-hand smoke (but better): You get almost the same effect. And of course, since laughing is contagious, someone else's laughter tends to trigger yours, giving you extra laugh points toward your quota. And I count long laughs as multiple points, because as of now, that seems to me about the only way to get to 300 per day. (Perhaps I'll grow out of this limited-possibility mindset?)

Meeting the Quota

Here's an example: On my own, I would have probably just chuckled a little at Bob's surprise appearance from behind me. Count = 1 laugh. But Bob's laughter continued for at least 25 or 30 points worth, I'd say. So, according to my quota counting system, I would add an extra 30 points to my tab, because We Are One, remember? Moreover, since Bob's long, exuberant laughter triggered the same response in me, I laughed and laughed along with him--which gives me an additional 30 laugh points, not just the one chuckle point I would have gotten on my own. Out of that joint laugh experience, I now have 60 points. And since Joe laughed delightedly too, that's another 30 points. So in just one laugh episode—with my own long hearty laugh, enjoyed with two additional laughers also riffing in blissful Oneness—I get a full (though unscientific) 90 points toward my daily quota! Counting like this, I think to myself: I can do this.

How About You?

What if, just for today, you were to throw in at least a few extra laughs? Maybe even a couple of really happy long ones, so hale and hearty that it gets someone else to start laughing, too. (Tip: Try it around a 4- to 6-year-old.

What would you feel like if you laughed like a 5-year-old today, and tomorrow, and the next? What would we all feel like? What would the world be like if laughter became, once again, our natural state?

"You don't stop laughing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop laughing."—Michael Pritchard

About the Author
Pamela Gerloff, Ed.D.

Dr. Pamela Gerloff, holds a doctorate in Human Development from Harvard University and is co-author of Dignity for All: How to Create a World without Rankism.

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