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OFF THE RECORD: Laughter is helpful, says therapist
I love to laugh. And amazingly, I haven't lost my personal laugh track since 9-11 was forever embedded in our minds. Granted, in the days following the terrorist attack, there weren't too many chuckles surfacing to the top. There was little laughter emanating from my bones. And nary a giggle going on.
I wasn't the only one lacking in laughter. Even the late night talk show hosts, who skewer and grill just about anything within earshot, took a time out. Making fun of politicians and the world in general was put on hold.
But slowly we're finding our way back to some sort of normalcy, and laughter is part of the mix. In fact, recently I've found myself laughing a little too much at things that normally aren't all that funny - like the Seattle Mariners' embarrassing 17-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Saturday.
"I quickly laugh at everything, for fear of having to cry."
Pierre de Beaumarchais, Le Barbier de Seville (1775)
Annette Goodheart, Ph.D., a laughter therapist in California, would most likely concur with that statement. In a telephone interview with Goodheart (yes, that's her real name!) from her home in Santa Barbara, she shared some of her thoughts about laughter.
So, Doctor, is it OK to laugh now?
"It is more important now than ever," said Goodheart. "You can't laugh and be afraid at the same time ... fear is the lock, laughter is the key."
Goodheart has been a laughter therapist for 30 years -and yes, she has a wonderful laugh (hear it on her Web site at www.teehee.com). She also has a personalized license plate that reads "Tee Heed." You gotta love somebody that has turned laughter into a way of life - even during the darkest of times.
"When any tragedy hits, it takes about three days to laugh," said Goodheart. She calls it "M*A*S*H" humor, black humor or gallows humor - and it generally surfaces after any tragedy. "Laughter is a form of catharsis ... it has nothing to do with being flippant or superficial."
But therein lies the problem - what's funny to one person may not be funny to another. "There's no agreement on what's funny," said Goodheart. "But you feel what you feel, and you can't judge or control other people's feelings. There are no shoulds' on feelings."
Goodheart cites the work of early 1900s psychologist William James (brother of author Henry James), who said that laughter doesn't come out of happiness; laughter comes out of tension, stress and pain. He theorized that we're happy because we laugh, we don't laugh because we're happy.
And in her small practice, Goodheart is hearing a lot of worries and concerns following last month's tragedy.
"Hardest hit are the single mothers," said Goodheart. "They're afraid."
On her Web site, Goodheart says the best part of laughter is that you don't need a reason to laugh - just start laughing.
Here are some of her reasons to laugh:
- Strengthen your immune system.
- Make your cheeks sore.
- Enhance your cardiovascular flexibility.
- Increase your spiritual quotient.
- Think more clearly.
- Put a devilish twinkle in your eye.
- Increase your intellectual performance and information retention.
- Forget what you were laughing about.
- Replenish your creative juices.
- Destroy your conservative reputation.
- "Pop" yourself out of emotional ruts.
- Dampen your undergarment.
- Release and transform your emotional pain.
- Develop abdominal muscles of steel.
- Re-balance the chemistry of your stress and tension.
- Create stress/tension in others.
- Create perspective and remind yourself of the bigger picture.
- Wonder why you wasted all those years being serious.
- Experience a deep connection with other human beings.
- Confuse/confound family and friends.
- Draw yourself into experiencing the present.
- Help yourself live and die, laughing.
- Join a growing group of giggling gurus.
Sue Frause can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.