Up, Up, and Away: The Evolution of Laughter Practitioners

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The Roots and the Evolution & Growth of the World Laughter Tour’s Practitioners

The First Certified Laughter Leaders (July 2000)

Proposition: Life is a psycho-social game.
     Corollary: If you don’t play the social part right, you will go ‘psycho’.

Proposition: Laughter is one of the universal attributes of human beings.
     Corollary: It gives us a clue to universal laws for playing the game and not going ‘psycho’.

Proposition: Improving psychosocial working conditions and educating workers on stress-coping mechanisms is beneficial for the physical and mental health of workers.
     Corollary: The benefits include increased productivity among workers, reduction in absenteeism and employee turnover in addition to other costs borne by employers.

Proposition: The human brain is wired for laughter.
     Corollary: The human brain can be rewired.

Proposition: Laughter is vitally and critically important to the successful game of life. A life without laughter is dreadful.
     Corollary: A dreadful life is likely to be void of laughter.

Proposition: An adequate amount of laughter makes life worth living.
     Corollary: A life worth living generates laughter.

What’s In A Name?

It’s Official!

When I first saw people intentionally coming together in groups for laughing to improve health and well-being sans traditional humor (jokes and comedy), the leaders were called anchor persons. That was 1998, in Mumbai.

When I tried to apply the concept the following year in he United States, modeled on Activity Therapy well-known in the Western world, it proved to be a fascinating complement to the burgeoning field of applied and therapeutic humor but the title anchor person was not well received.

In the USA, Laughter Leader was a more acceptable title. I could see that the so-called expert model prevalent in the Western World –and my desire that this new field overcome years of resistance from the established health & human services communities– dictated that Laughter Leaders should be certified. Hence: the evolution of the title Certified Laughter Leader.

It worked. As acceptance and respect grew, doors opened, and by now, probably millions of lives have been touched by laughter.

Now, with new evidence leading to improvements in techniques streaming in every week, the next logical iteration of titles within World Laughter Tour, will include the word Practitioner.

It’s A Neuro-Psycho-Social Thing

Reflect on the Connection

The neurological substrates that control smiling and laughing are mature at birth in all healthy human beings. Evidence for this is the fact that, even though they have never seen or heard laughter, people who are born blind and deaf will eventually laugh and smile.

In some cultures, the primal –first– laughter of an infant is cause for joyous celebration because the community knows that it signals good health and a healthy environment.

Laughter is often referred to as a universal language because you can go anywhere in the world, and even if you do not speak their language, when you display genuine smiling and laughter, everybody knows what it means.

Dr. Robert Provine estimates that only 10% of the laughter in a lifetime is the result of jokes and comedy. Ninety percent of the laughter in a lifetime is the result of social interaction. This is an important clue to the social part of the psycho-social game of life.

We Need to Become and Create Social Support Providers
Through workplace studies, researchers have identified a cohort of individuals as social support providers.  

Studies show:
·       Low social support is as damaging as high blood pressure.
·       Social support is the greatest predictor of happiness during periods of high stress.
·       Social support providers are not only 10 times more likely to be engaged at work than those who kept to themselves.
·       Social support providers are 40% more likely to get a promotion.
·       Social support providers are happier (thriving and learning).
·       Happy employees have, on average, 31% higher productivity; their sales are 37% higher, their creativity is three times higher.

Roots and the Evolutionary Growth of Laughter Practitioners Initially, The World Laughter Tour, which I established in 1998, was built on the popular notion that there was healing power in humor and fun. Josh Billings had said, “There is not a whole lot of fun in medicine but there is a whole lot of medicine in fun.” Norman Cousins’ near-miraculous recovery and subsequent scientific evidence lent credence to the idea.

It seemed reasonable and worthwhile to build on that idea to promote the development of “the sense of humor” for success in business, healthcare, and education.

I know now that showing people how they could develop a sense of humor was actually showing them techniques for rewiring their brains.

A closer look at the evolving scientific evidence led to the unmistakable conclusions that (1) for important reasons, laughter could and should be separated from humor; (2) the physiology, psychology, and neurology of the physical act of laughing was much easier –and more reliable– to measure than humor; (3) the emotional state of true mirth as a possible pre-condition of the benefits of laughter and humor, had to be given serious consideration.

I am ever grateful to my friend and mentor, Dr. William Fry, Jr., for his many contributions to the science of laughter, perhaps especially for the essential concept of true mirthful laughter.

Although it was initially –and still is- touted by some as a yogic phenomenon, the group laughing activity that emerged from India in the form of the Laughter Club, was another clue to the social condition for laughing.

I have been able to train more than 6,000 practitioners of laughter therapy. Many of them are health & human services professionals, educators, and business people. Their more than 15,000 anecdotal reports, archived by World Laughter Tour, do not attain the status of peer-reviewed, double-blind studies, but anecdotes and case studies are the beginnings of science.

The anecdotal reports are unanimous: group laughter results in at least short term improvements in subjective feelings of well-being. Scientific studies now give evidence of why this would be true for laughter as well as for humor, such as adding the viewing of funny TV programs to standard cardiac rehabilitation routines.

Early on, I realized that group laughter sessions alone would not be enough to adequately rewire the brain for a healthier, happier lifestyle. There needed to be a rewiring in terms of the kinds of attitudes and activities that give rise to not only laughter but more positive thoughts, more positive feelings, and more positive interactions.
Rewiring requires practices that individuals can do on their own, repeatedly, both privately and in social situations.

Understanding this need gave rise to my creation of a program called Good-Hearted-Living™, which rewires the brain for more gratitude, flexibility, altruism, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and guilt-free pleasure.

Based on research from Positive Psychology, we are now amplifying our training of laughter therapy practitioners to include a range and variety of Positive Activity Interventions (PAIs). Improvements in our methods amplify social connectedness.

Originally, it was thought that benefits primarily derived from laughter’s triggering of an endorphin release, but the advent of neurologic technology is giving us insight into connections between certain activities and attitudes and actions in the brain related to dopamine, the pleasure centers, and much more.

Practitioners will use Positive Activity Interventions (PAIs) to produce many beneficial effects. PAIs will include music, novel movement, gratitude, meditation, visual imagery, affirmations, non-competitive games, humor, and of course, true mirthful laughter.

(Used with permission.)

Onward & Upward

“The deeper you go, the higher you fly.” ~George Harrison

Laughter was just the tip of the iceberg. We are now eagerly drilling deeper and wider and finding more of the rich resources that foster laughter, accompany laughter, and are produce in association with laughter.

Recently (2011) Ruth M. Buczynski, PhD, President and Licensed Psychologist, The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, contends that rewiring the brain can lead to such benefits as:

·       New hope for kids with learning disabilities
·       Freedom from harmful habits and ruts that ensnare patients
·       Innovative (and effective) ways to treat depression, anxiety, and OCD
·       Helpful insights for arguing couples who keep hitting all the same explosive triggers
·       New understanding in how to work with patients who have PTSD

Is it any wonder that I continue to embrace laughter? Breathlessly, I know that there is so much more to come.

Please forward this blog to those who will find the information and ideas useful or interesting.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these matters. Please add your comments below..

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About the Author

Steve Wilson

Award-winning psychologist, Steve Wilson, also known as The Joyologist and The Cheerman of the Bored, has spent 30 years specializing in applied and therapeutic humor with a humanitarian mission. As Director of National Humor Month, he intertwines science and ancient wisdom with substance and humor to create practical methods to lead the world to health, happiness and peace through laughter. More than six thousand people have completed his unique training in how to create therapeutic laughter, and tens of thousands more around the world have been uplifted by his talks, classes, books, and articles. He established the World Laughter Tour, Inc., in 1998, to be a rich resource and inspiration for improving productivity, health, and well being in business, healthcare and education. For more information https://www.worldlaughtertour.com and http://www.humormonth.com.