The average 4-year-old laughs 300 times a day; a 40-year-old, only four.
When I first read that statistic, on a blog called Ageing Healthily, Happily, and Youthfully, I found the 300 times a day 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?" [out of sight around the corner]
There was a silent pause then an explosion of laughter behind, then 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 probably 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 me, with Joe chiming in -- laughed and laughed and laughed.
I suppose it could be 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. Some online bloggers cited 15-20 times 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. Both literally and figuratively. Journalist 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. Both inflammation and pain were significantly reduced. Research since then has shown laughter reduces levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, epinephrine and dopamine, increases health-enhancing hormones -- such as endorphins -- beneficial neurotransmitters and infection-fighting antibodies and also improves blood flow to the heart --all resulting in greater relaxation and resistance to disease as well as improved mood and positive outlook. 1, 2, 3, 4
Laughter changes us 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.
The day after I read the blog on laughing, I decided to laugh more. I upped 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 experiential insight shared laughter sometimes leads 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. You get almost the same effect as if you were the one laughing. And of course, since laughing is contagious, someone else's laughter tends to trigger yours -- so that gives you extra laugh points toward your quota, too. I also count long laughs as multiple points, because as of now that seems to me about the only way to get to 300 laughs per day. Perhaps I'll grow out of this limited-possibility mindset?
Here's an example: On my own, I would have probably just chuckled at little 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 90 points toward my daily laugh quota! Counting like this, I think to myself: I can do this.
So how about you? Want to up your laugh quota? What if, just for today, you were to throw in at least a few extra laughs? Maybe even a couple of real happy long ones, so hale and hearty that someone else starts 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
1. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1375238/
2. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1475938/
3. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18317546
4. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18955287