Everyone loves a good chuckle. But why do we laugh? Are we the only animals who can laugh? And why is it funny when someone walks into a glass door?
- It is a myth that only human beings laugh. Laughter has been observed in many animals: dogs, apes and mice all have some form of laughter. If your dog is panting and has a stupid grin on their face, that is its laugh. Studies have found that if you record that sound and play it back to another dog, the animal will start relaxing. Rats laugh too: they give off high-pitched squeeks while playing with each other or are tickled.
- Another myth is that laughter and humour are always seen together. Humans laugh at least 17 times a day, most of it for social reasons. Researchers believe that laughter is a way we communicate relaxation and to appear non-threatening. Some even speculate that we developed laughter early as a sound we made when we avoided a threat, like a lion.
- The study of laughter is called Gelotology. It may sound strange – maybe Chuckletology was taken – but it is actually very apt. Gelos is the Ancient Greek god of laughter.
- Laughter is universal – thing such as language and culture do not change how and why we laugh. Yet every laugh is practically unique to its owner.
- How much you laugh can very well be a genetic thing. Tests with twins separated at birth suggest that how often and easily we laugh has very little to do with how we are raised or our environment. Simply put: some people are just naturally more jolly and it might be something you cannot be taught. And your sex matters: women tend to laugh more than men.
- Laughing is a very social expression. We laugh 30 times more when we are among other people or creatures such as pets. And we laugh a lot less when we are alone. The difference is so pronounced that even people who ingest Nitrous oxide – laughing gas – when they are alone laugh fewer times than they should.
- There is good money to be made in making people laugh. Peter Kay was the U.K.’s best-paid comedian in 2011, putting $30 million in his bank account – more than the Beckhams. The previous year Jeff Dunham was the U.S.’ most successful stand-up comedian with over $20 million in earnings.
- Babies can smile early on, but they only start laughing at around 3 to 5 months, sometimes later. Yet it is clear that they do not learn to laugh from example, leading to the theory that a part of laughter stems from the same place as language. The ability to communicate with words is also a natural ability – what we learn from others is the language that we use.
- Though most laughter takes place without humour, the stuff we find funny says a lot about why we laugh – it’s all about a sense of relief. Something is funny because it does not fit a pattern. Our brains spot these around us and when such a pattern is interrupted – for example, someone tripping on a sidewalk – we react with a certain shock. If the shock is mild, it’s called a state of incongruity and we laugh as a result. But if the shock is heavy – say said tripping person lands in front of a bus – we react more violently. This shock could still translate into laughter, which is why some people chuckle when they are very upset. It also explains why our humor changes as we age: fewer things surprise us.
- Much is being made about the health benefits of laughter, yet we actually know very little about how laughter affects us. But it is known that laughter helps suppress release of the stress hormone Cortisol and when we laugh, happy chemicals such as dopamine are released. Some studies also suggest that regular laughter reduces blood pressure and strengthens your immune system.
- Laughter is tricky – it does not stem from just one part of the brain, but instead engages several areas. Much of the action, though, happens in the older parts of the brain. Still, a chuckle comes from all over the place, using the parts of your brain responsible for vision, emotion, thinking (cognitive) and movement.
- Psychological laughter is a known medical condition called the Pseudobulbar effect. This can also include pathological crying – laughter and crying are very closely related in terms of how we generate them in our brains. The causes for this condition vary, but often come from brain damage or strong brain medication.
So my people please endeavour to laugh often, even when it seems that things are not going as planned.