I became a laughter leader in 2002 and ran Laughter Clubs for senior citizens. After the Laughter Club ended, I stopped offering any laughter programs. Several years later, I started to work at a cemetery working with the families. Part of the job was to offer programs to community groups. Most of them were cemetery related topics, but I also offered Laugh for the Health of It. This was the only program requested and soon I was immersed back into the world of laughter once again. Offering the only Laughter Club held at a cemetery anywhere in the world, I have seen how laughter can help people experiencing tough times feel better. In fact a widow, who lost her husband of 63 years, attended a Laughter Club and showed me a photo of him after the laughter session had ended.
She looked at me with a surprised look on her face and told me that this was the first time she had looked at his picture and not started to cry. Therapeutic laughter, or laughing for no reason, is such a simple tool that is readily accessible, costs nothing and works, as this widow discovered for herself.
People are surprised that I suggest therapeutic laughter to people who are grieving. However once I explain that laughter helps to level the emotions, reduces stress, increases memory retention and boosts the immune system, they begin to realize why it is so beneficial. It is said that, “Laughter is the shock absorber that eases the blows of life.” People naturally turn to it to help them cope when life gets challenging.
Again and again I witness the amazing healing properties of laughter. Speaking to organizations and companies, I witness how stressed people are. Laughter helps to lift their spirits and bring them into a place where they can begin to feel hope once again. I believe one of the reasons laughter is so effective is because it brings us into the present moment. We often find ourselves looking back at the past with regret or projecting into the future with anxiety, yet the only place we can feel good is right now, in this moment. You simply cannot be laughing and worrying at the same time.
Laughter is more than just a physical act, it is also an attitude. I have a nun who attends my Laughter Club who wore a clown nose into surgery and told the surgeon that she was there for a “nose job.” Another woman brings her stuffed baboon, Bozo, with her to Laughter Club and has him join in on our laughter exercises, especially when we visit the zoo. Still another participant carries bubbles in her purse and uses them whenever she finds herself sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. Each club member has found ways to incorporate more joyful living into their lives as they look for the opportunity to laugh at life. They know, as did Oscar Wilde, that “Life is too important to take seriously.”
Working at the cemetery has taught me to take laughter seriously and life lightly. Sharing the gift of laughter with people who are grieving, stressed, ill or facing other challenging times has enriched my life in so many ways. I witness the lasting impact that laughter has on their lives and I realize the benefits that I have found in my own life. No longer do I wake up with worry in the middle of the night. Gone is the perfectionism that plagued me, as I now practice flexibility. I laugh easily and often and I answer a simple, “How are you?” with a hearty, “Terrific!” Most of all I celebrate each moment and make every day a “yay” day.
Nancy Weil is the Founder of The Laugh Academy. Her new book If Stress Doesn’t Kill You, Your Family Might, is available on her website: www.TheLaughAcademy.com.