Monday, August 13, 2012

10 Laughter Triggers

The following 10 laughter triggers are presented for increasing laughter. The suggestions focus on general principles, not specific techniques. These suggestions are informed predictions that have been empirically tested by the author of this blog.

SOCIAL LAUGHTER:  Laughter is a social signal that basically clams up the moment we're alone. Ideally, one's social strata provides plenty of opportunities to laugh, however, in an age of increasing solitude spent in front of our computers, physical social encounters are diminishing in frequency, making way for virtual ones. Whether you get together with a group of friends or simply strike up a conversation with a checker at your local grocery store, finding people with whom you can laugh is an easy way to increase your own laughter frequency. If you are totally anti-social, have obsessive tendencies, or can't otherwise muster the strength to talk to strangers in order to make new friends, turn on the television for some vicarious laughter. While watching television is a noninteractive social activity, it does at least offer a window to the social world.

PEOPLE WATCHING:  Living and working in Paris offers an abundance of opportunities to people watch. While admittedly Parisians seem to laugh less frequently than do Californians, large crowd mentality does seem to increase the reach of a laugh just as it does a wave at a baseball stadium. The social multiplier effect brightens people's moods. Walk down the street and pass a crowd of teenagers or tourists laughing and you'll immediately find yourself smiling or chuckling to yourself thinking about how they're enjoying their day or holiday. 

FACE TIME: Big groups do not necessarily increase laughter, in particular if people are isolated from each other. For example, 8th grade dance: boys on one side, girls on the other. We laughed amongst ourselves (usually while simultaneously pointing or diverting our eyes), but we did not laugh as a group (there was too much pressure to see who was going to be the first to dance). Nevertheless, the more genuine face-to-face time we get with others does seem to increase laughter. Invariably, conversations, in order to maintain the harmony and balance of the interaction, include a chuckle or laugh or lighthearted comment to avoid the trap of seriousness. You know that trap, when you're talking to someone and they get overly serious in a time or place that doesn't quite feel right? Laughter is an essential balancer, a normalizer if you will, that keeps the conversation flowing. 

CHILL OUT: Sometimes it's good to let the house go a bit, turn off the phones and the computer, and relax. Worry and anxiety kill laughter. When we're time-pressured and harried, we rarely notice funny things around us. Unless you're speed walking with your friends down the streets of Paris to see who navigate people obstacles, arriving first to Starbucks (last person to arrive pays; no running allowed). Leisurely atmospheres - at home, in a park, or even playing silly games while walking down the streets of Paris with your friends - provide a comfortable environment whereby people can forget about what time it is and just chill out, listen to music, read, joke around, people watch, people navigate, or simply shop. 

LAUGHTER TRAINING: Train yourself to laugh by surrounding yourself with funny stuff. I bookmark comics and return to them time and time again, just like I return to funny YouTube videos or songs. Just as when you think you're going to succeed, you actually do; when you think you're going to laugh (argue, cry, reach Starbucks first), you actually do. When we know we're going to have a good time, we can't help but have a good time! In this respect, training yourself to laugh can be as simple as telling yourself you're going to laugh. Try it and see what happens. (I bet you that you'll end up laughing). 

GIVE SOMEONE THE LAUGHTER BUG: Energie is contagious (or so I say). As such, if you find yourself in a group of people that are laughing, you'll automatically find a way to yuk yuk with the best of them. Imagine, if you will, going to a party in Paris. You barely speak French, everybody's smoking, you know that every 5 minutes you spend in the environment you're taking off a day from your life, and yet, if you can find a way to join in the festive laughter, the "feel good" chemicals you'll release in your body will get that time back plus some as a bonus - that's how good laughter is for us. 

LAUGHTER AIDS: Laughter aids (funny videos, joke books, comic books) are reliable stimuli for producing laughter. Simply thumbing through comics (as long as they're not the negative, graphic ones you find nowadays in the comic stores) can lighten your mood. Whatever makes you smile and laugh should be accessible, if not preemptively assembled and put up on your bookshelf. 

MAKE SOMEONE ELSE LAUGH: One of the ways we can find ourselves laughing is to say or do something that we know will make other people laugh. Breezy, gossipy chats with friends are likely to produce laughter when you can find a space away from prying eyes (and ears). Although intimacy isn't the only way to create laughter, smaller groups tend to laugh more genuinely given the fact that we experience stronger emotional reactions to interpersonal communication. Being less inhibited ourselves can help others laugh while providing us a continual platform upon which we too can enjoy laughter. 

HAVE A PARTY: You don't just have to go to a party to laugh, you can throw one yourself. As host or hostess, the ability to smile, giggle, laugh and socially joke around with your guests in a way that makes them feel welcome is a sought-after skill. Not everyone has the ability to make others comfortable in their presence, but throwing a party and inviting people who are more social is a sure fire bet that at some point during the party you'll find yourself laughing, whether or not you're a regular laughter. If you don't know enough people to throw a party - like say if you just moved or something - then make dinner for your family more playful. Set-up a theme and get everyone involved. Even if getting involved means becoming part of the Chef's Executive Management Team: Races to set the table, Iron Chef themes (whereby one family member explains everything you're doing as you're cooking/preparing it) or food eating contests. Even small gatherings can turn into seemingly-larger than life (or larger than 3 or 4 people) gatherings - just add a pinch of laughter!

TICKLE ELMO:  ("Oh, boy! That tickles!") Thanks to our own neurophysiology, we cannot tickle ourselves. So, you'll either have to tickle Elmo (or a friend) or have someone tickle you. While tickling is the most potent and potentially most controversial type of laughter trigger, it is one that has been known since ancient times.  Like a drug, however, tickling should come with a warning label and used with care, because it can have harmful side effects. Forced stimulation, such as when someone is held down and tickled, is not only inappropriate, it is aggressive behavior. At no time should aggression be mistaken for tickling. While many children grow up with the concept of the "Tickle Monster", this game is only fun when in fun for all participants.  If this game is played with unwilling participants or if it gets "too rough" children usually grow up strongly disliking the experience of being tickled. Still, as far as tickling is concerned, it would seem like it's more fun when you tickle someone than when you get tickled. That admission in itself is a key to understanding that laughter from tickling has nothing to do with laughter evoked from humor. Tickle invoked laughter is a physical response to overstimulation whereas natural laughter is a physical, emotional, and intellectual response that results from understimulation (something's missing, which made something else seem funny or fragmented). 

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