Interviewed by Lisa Carter
Scott Williams approach to stress is quite different from most. The Laughter Specialist started out with his wife Angela in the mid-70’s as a magic act supporting an international hypnotist. This three-month run turned into a five year gig, after which the magic duo went on to support a wide range of touring international acts, including The Monkees, The Village People, The Seekers and others. This was followed by an extended season at the Magic Castle on Australia’s Gold Coast, where the pair did over 5000 shows as the resident illusionists.
Nowadays, ‘The Doc’, as he is affectionately known (from a magic character he played on a national children’s television show), is a motivational speaker and comic crusader for the corporate world. Lisa Carter breaks out her best emojiface with the master of laughter.
Lisa: “Pleasure. . . it’s a big ol’ carrot our bodies dangle in front of us to get us to do things, like getting up off the couch for chocolate. Some people choose to find pleasure through illegal and harmful methods, but you help thousands of people find their ‘natural high’ – how?“
Scott: “Funny you should mention chocolate Lisa. Chocolate assists in the release of serotonin, triggering activity in the reward and pleasure centres of our brain. The trouble with chocolate is we must limit the amount we have for our own benefit. With chocolate, it’s a case of less is more! That is why laughter is so good – it triggers endorphins, a set of neuropeptides (brain chemicals) that give you an even bigger rush than chocolate! And you can never have too much. It’s definitely a case of the more the better. The aim of the game is to overdose”
Scott: “The term endorphin is actually short for endogenous morphine – or ‘morphine from within’. Endorphins are the human body’s own natural analgesic, produced in the brain, normally in response to pain. After the brain releases them, they travel to specific receptors in the body. The chemicals cause an interruption of the pain messages being sent to the brain and since the brain is no longer receiving the messages that the body is in pain – the sense of awareness of the pain we are experiencing diminishes! Pretty amazing right? When there is an overabundance of endorphins in our body we begin to experience a feeling of euphoria. This is what athletes experience during a marathon and it enables them to push through the pain and continue running. Their aim is to hit that ‘runners high’.”
Lisa: “So why do all these endorphin-producing activities, such as laughter or exercising (I suggest this may be at the time we FINISH), have such similar effects?”
Scott: “Obviously, when we exercise we put a strain on our muscles and this triggers the release of endorphins. Exercise is very important for sand actually very enjoyable once you commit to it regularly. But a wide range of other pleasurable activities also release endorphins in varying amounts, such as laughter, massage, eating chocolate and strawberries (together or separately). Spicy food, particularly a hot curry is also a good one. The tongue interprets a hot curry as a pain creator and triggers endorphins to combat the pain. Also acupuncture, physiotherapy and meditation. Oh, and sex! Lots of sex equals lots of endorphins! Levels of endorphins in the body can increase by 300% after sex. It’s an endorphilicious smorgasbord! We just have to make sure these type of activities are built into our day to day life. A good habit is just as addictive as a bad habit, only with benefits instead of detriments!”
Lisa: “Daily sex? I swear that just triggered a collective ‘Yee-har’ from all the men in Australia. But what about getting the giggles – how many times a day for optimal health?”
Scott: “As often as possible. It is estimated that children laugh, chuckle or guffaw around 300 times a day yet adults only manage to laugh around 17 times a day! Big difference. As adults, we need to take decisive steps to laugh more. One of the reasons our laughter levels drop is because as we mature we are taught a range of ‘laughter limiting behaviours’. “Come on now, stop being silly”. “Grow up!” “How old are you- five?”
One of the big ones is the fact that as adults we get into the habit of throwing our minds forward, thinking about what we have to do tonight, tomorrow or next week. In doing so, we take our eye off the here and now, and this causes us to miss the inherent value that lies in the present moment. In doing this, we rob ourselves of joy.
Children, on the other hand, don’t care what’s happening later. It’s only the here and now that is of the utmost importance. Because of this, kids are often able to pick up on anything funny that happens ‘in the moment’. If a child is laughing an average of 300 times a day then they are laughing on average every two and a half minutes! In other words, just about everything in life is funny when seen through the eyes of a child. Having said that, they are also more prone to melt downs, often over the smallest of things. But this just as quickly dissipates. As adults, we suppress all our anger and frustrations and carry them around with us. The heavier the load of our mental anguish the less likely we are to enjoy a good hearty laugh when the opportunity to do so arises.”
Lisa: “Do you think the old wives’ tale about dying from a broken heart is actually possible, that it has to do with a lack of endorphins or something?”
Scott: “Well, my expertise is in life, not death – but if I was to hazard a guess I would say there is still so much we do not understand about the power of the human brain. We know, for example, that some indigenous tribespeople in human history have been able to ‘will themselves to die’ at a particular time. I assume that desire to die is just as relevant for the person who has lost someone very dear to them, someone who perhaps they have spent the last 50 or 60 years with. It’s not only that they can’t go on but also that they don’t want to go on. We know that a build-up of stress hormones, such as cortisol, and noradrenaline in the body because of an over active stress response system (SRS) can cause chronic stress including coronary heart disease, metabolic disruption and insulin resistance (leading to diabetes, as well as a general increase in erratic behaviour (for more on this read the Happy Human Book, available at the Happy store on this website). All these things can play a role in someone’s suffering – whether from a broken body or a broken spirit. It’s all connected – the physical, the emotional and the spiritual.”
Lisa: “How do you encourage people to keep their own little ‘incredible hulk’ moments under control?
Scott: “Often it comes down to relinquishing control rather than tasking control. So many things in life that annoy us or frustrate us we have little control over – in other words out of our control as an action (such as someone cutting us off in heavy traffic) but is within our control as a reaction. There will always be situations that you wish you could change but can’t. let them go. Take some control over those things you feel you may have some persuasion over – have some power to alter. We all have a finite number of things we can deal with at any one time/. As humans, we have six core emotions that can influence our positive and negative biases – love, joy, surprise, sadness, anger and fear.
We must become more discerning about what we allow into our mental processing plant (our brain) because it is a proven fact that our thoughts trigger our emotions. It’s a new world we are faced with today and we need to sharpen our mental skills in order to successfully operate in it. In other words we need a most robust mental operating system. Some people re still thinking on a Windows 95 platform. Find ways of developing greater thought processes so you are better equipped mentally for this new world. And physically equip yourself with enough exercise to keep your body in a reasonable condition for its age.”
Lisa: “Even as adults (and usually at the most inopportune moment), if someone else starts giggling, it’s almost impossible not to join them. And the more disapproving the glares, the harder it is to stop. Why on earth is laughter so incredibly contagious?”
Scott: “Laughter is in our DNA. Although it was once thought to be a ‘learnt behaviour’ (derived from watching our parents laugh and pull funny faces at us in the first few months of life) researchers now believe laughter is part of our makeup – part of who we are. Studies done on babies who were both deaf and blind found that they still began to laugh at around 4 months. Laughter therefore comes naturally to us. The reason we get ‘infected’ when we hear others laugh is that our fellow human beings have and always will be our primary source of positive emotion. Only 15% of our laughter comes from watching a funny TV show, hearing a comedian tell a joke, reading a cartoon or some other form of physical comedy. 85% of our laughter comes from interaction with others. And not because you are all standing around telling jokes. Most laughter is born out of simple conversation. As we take on greater responsibilities in adulthood we begin to cut down on the amount of social interaction we have with others and this reduces our laughter levels. Get out and find ways of interacting with others – quality social time with others whose company you enjoy will always bring positive benefit to your life.”
Lisa: “From someone who spends a great deal of work hours in front of a very unresponsive, and unfunny, computer screen, what is the most wonderful part of spending your work days making people laugh?”
Scott: “Laughter heals. When you have experienced some kind of tragedy or heartbreak in your life – when you once again begin to hear the sound of your own laughter you know that healing has begun. So many people come up to me after shows and tell me that they haven’t laugh so much for years (thankfully or I’m in the wrong profession!). What greater blessing is there than to work in the service of others. Recent studies have shown that a marked improvement in how you feel about the world and of your own self worth occurs when you get involved in some kind of not-for-profit organisation. Once a week, once a month – it doesn’t matter. Helping out in a soup kitchen, spending a morning helping the Salvo’s. It’s about giving back – redirecting your focus outward rather than constantly internalising everything. It becomes a pretty shallow existence when life becomes just ‘all about me’.”
Lisa: “Finish this sentence: A world without laughter is…?”
Scott: “A cemetery”