Every survival kit should include a sense of humor says an anonymous author. Some might say what’s to laugh lately. Life under Middle East dictatorships isn’t amusing. The U.S. and Iran still lack diplomatic relations after nearly 30 years. Energy and food prices soar around the world. Climate change threatens everyone.
A concept as simple as laughter – no jokes, no gimmicks, just laughter - is transforming the world. Change started in India in 1995 when Dr. Madan Kataria laughed with small groups of strangers on Mumbai streets. According to Laughter Yoga International, there are 6,000 laughter groups in 60 countries including a few in Iran although the hard-line regime frowns upon public laughter. Perhaps laughing on a street corner like dog ownership is seen as too Western. Iranian laughter groups are supposedly illegal because they welcome both men and women yet they somehow persist. Website pictures show happy people enjoying themselves. I hope President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad doesn’t order mass round-ups because people are laughing. Other Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey, Qatar, and Israel also showcase laughter groups.
Laughter gave me a boost last year. A pedestrian car accident in 1994 rendered me 100% disabled with brain and spine injuries. The house I shared edged towards foreclosure because the owner lost her job. Where would I live with my scraggly rescued dogs? Parting with my pets wasn’t an option. Affordable housing is as scarce in Arizona as a rainy season so I panicked. I’d already sifted through the trash for redeemable aluminum cans to help pay the bills. I had no other way to supplement my Social Security. Desperate, I buried my face inside my hands and sobbed. Then I found the laughter group at the SW Institute for Healing Arts in Tempe. It was free so that fit my budget. That January evening I felt more at ease than I had in months. I slept peacefully for a change. I saw a glimmer of hope instead of despair.
Corporations now use laughter to improve employee morale. Happier employees are more productive. Hospitals offer laughter groups to help patients cope with debilitating illnesses. There is nothing funny about cancer but laughter brings calm to chemotherapy patients. Prisons use laughter so inmates can deal with long sentences, congregate living, and separation from family.
In 2000, 10,000 people gathered in Copenhagen and set a world record for the largest group laugh. Not only does laughter bring people of diverse backgrounds together but it has beneficial physical effects too. Laughter lowers blood pressure, elevates mood and induces sleep. Overall, laughter fosters positive attitudes and improves self-image.
Laughter conferences are held around the world in nations such as the US, England, Japan and Mexico. I attended such a conference recently in Southern California. For two and a half days, I laughed with people from around the US, Jamaica, Australia, Mexico, Ethiopia, England, France and Canada. We all laugh in the same language. All major media outlets including the CBS weekly news magazine 60 Minutes cover the growing interest in laughter. Groups meet in public parks, hospitals, schools for no other reason than to laugh.
Laughter won’t solve all personal problems but it’ll make you feel better. If added to tense political negotiations, however, it just might bring about more peaceful solutions in Iran and around the world. Laughter has incredible physical and psychological healing powers. It really is a tranquilizer without side effects as the late American humorist Arnold Glascow said.
To find a free laughter group near you visit the website www.laughteryoga.com. Bring an open mind and laugh for no reason. Leave feeling light hearted and happier. Make new friends too.
As for me, I eventually found housing in a trailer park that accepted pets. I laugh every day.
Debra J. White
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