Humour, the individual interpretation of what is funny is a very subjective topic. What one person thinks is hilarious another may find no humour in at all. That is to be expected as we are all different. What is important is that we continually look for new ways of feeding our sense of humour. A sense of humour is a vital weapon in our ongoing struggle to maintain a positive mental attitude. It is the buffer between us and life’s difficult times. If we were unable to see the funny side of a situation our mood would very quickly sink into despair. Thankfully we are born with a natural ability to laugh. It is in our DNA!
A newborn will first experience laughter at around four months of age. This ability to laugh was once thought to be ‘learnt behaviour’, taught to the child in their first four months of life by the primary carers, most often the parents. As the parents leaned over the child, they would laugh and pull faces at the baby. The parents would encourage the child to respond, which the child soon enough does – firstly with a crooked smile and then at around four months of age with their first expression of laughter. More recent tests completed on newborns with special needs have helped to overturn the view that laughter is a learnt behaviour. Rather, it is built into our DNA.
Studies were conducted on babies born either profoundly deaf, blind or both. Despite having the loss of these major senses each baby still showed outward signs of laughter at around four months of age (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1973 “The expressive behaviour of the deaf and blind born.” Academic Press, London pp 163–194). Since in the worst cases it would have been impossible for a deaf and blind child to see or hear the primary care giver the child could not possibly have mimicked their behaviour. This finding led to the realisation that laughter was not something we learn but rather something that is hardwired into our DNA. Remember that we are not talking about our sense of humour. That is an aspect of our personality that is developed over time – shaped by the things in life that we discover make us laugh. Humour is psychological while laughter is the physiological response to that psychological state of being.
Although laughter comes naturally to us we can easily get out of the habit
of laughing if we do not feed our sense of humour. Time and energy must
be invested into finding ways to exercise our gelastic muscles, the muscles we use in the process of laughter. There are moments in our daily life when things happen unexpectedly that cause us to laugh out loud, but the problem is it does not happen often enough to meet our daily laughter needs.
Unexpected laughter should be considered a bonus and not our primary source of merriment. We have little control over those unexpected moments so it is unlikely we will be able to conjure them up again when we need them most. It is in our darkest moments that laughter can deliver the biggest benefit. We must take greater control over when we laugh and not simply live in the vain hope that it will be there when we need a mood pick me up.