One can laugh whether happy or unhappy, the latter needing a more powerful joke, that evokes powerful pleasures and easily sneaks into the mind, taking one by surprise during work, pain, anger, boredom, etc. Laughter gives comic relief counteracting the pain caused by different types of pressure, social, emotional or physical.
Great laughers laugh at the very pain they feel, even a severe physical one. It could be their nature, or experience with different pain types they had endured or learned, or belief that contradictions are part of life, challenging one's logic in an intriguing but fascinating way.
Our childish fascination with life's mysteries can exceed our awareness of pain, physical or emotional. In chemical terms, the endorphins released during a deep, hearty laugh are highly-analgesic that they distract us from the pain.
As for the physical part, there is no need to worry about the good "pain of laughter" which is better when laughter is safe (not during eating, driving, or doing a critical job) and natural (really enjoyable): a stomachache after a side-splitting belly-laughing experience, exhausted facial muscles, thigh slapping, mouth hiding, or harmless laughter' tears. It's just your body having fun and laughing with your mind.
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An oppressive ruler may say: "My fellow countrymen, I'm only your servant, sent by God to spread peace in His world and help everyone of you have their full rights to enjoy the life they deserve ... blah, blah, blah!" If we are the subjects of such ruler, we won't laugh at the contradictions in his speech, rather, we may feel bitter, angry or disgusted. However, if the same dictator is now overthrown, serving a lifetime sentence in prison yet still repeating his old nonsense about the God-given mission, etc., we may laugh. Because he's gone and we have to suffer his oppression no more, we laugh at the very words that had caused anger and bitterness before. The old source of pain becomes a subject for a good joke.
Politics is an "inevitable evil" which is a contradiction: we need politics yet it's always flawed, never satisfying everyone or perfectly organizing life, nor do politicians truly represent us, let alone want so as they have their own interests too. So we vent our frustration in political jokes, laughing at the minority deciding the majority's fate.
Laughter reflects the environment, knowledge and intelligence we have. We make jokes about taboos because they are a social burden we hate but must live with, until they change. Such hatred and acceptance is a contradiction. Taboos differ from one society, era, person ... to another. Sex, religion and politics are the stereotypical taboos but there are others too: body excretions and related organs, mental and physical disability/asymmetry, aging, dying, gender similarities, etc.
In prudish, repressive, or religious societies, people laugh more at hidden body parts and sex because they are not allowed to discuss such subjects. Meanwhile, they laugh less at death or aging, because they do discuss death, casually and happily, without cherishing life much. Their faith does the job of laughter, and their religious belief replaces the comic relief. Conversely, in secular societies, you hear more jokes about death, aging, and ignorance, because people believe such are hard facts to live with, that laughter helps them cope with.
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Back again to our dictator (like whom we have many—in politics, education, workplace, households, etc.). While he was still in power daily rambling about helping the suffering humanity, etc., in front of a bored audience, his child suddenly grabbed daddy's clothes and pulled the president's pants down by accident, or his wife slapped another woman she had seen winking at her husband, or his bodyguard behind them stumbled over the stage and fell among the audience ... We laugh at such live situation comedy of consecutive errors.
It's funny to us, but not to those who made us laugh, especially if we don't like each other, in which case our laughter is motivated by revenge, indirectly returning the hurt they had caused us before. One contradiction can be a reason to laugh or cry, depending on who laughs and who is laughed at. What is amusing for us could be embarrassing for others. In insult comedy, people insensitively laugh at someone being insulted, humiliated and disgraced before them. They feel no guilt about it because usually the person laughed at had tacitly accepted to be humorously insulted by appearing on the show.
A dark comedy or a dark joke is mostly needed at dark times, because it's difficult to laugh while ignoring one's insecurities. It's more challenging to laugh at a sad reality you cannot change.
Someone may laugh at a joke, while another may not, because it's too complex or simple. Your laughter shows how smart you are that you got the joke, or how dumb/ignorant that such an old joke still makes you laugh. Contradictions lose their mystery and appeal once they are understood, becoming a matter-of-fact part of life. Nevertheless, we will always find reasons to laugh, because we will never understand everything.
People laugh only at things they don't understand. When a subject becomes taboo, it turns into a forbidden fruit. Thus people grow more curious and tempted to taste it Their curiosity leads to more thinking yet no talking or doing something about it, which puts the brain under pressure to live a double life, constantly putting on a façade of lying and acting. And if you refuse to lie, you will suffer social isolation. So whether alone or with others, you are under pressure: this is why you need laughter, and its anesthetic relief to keep your sanity.
Chaos, chance, accidents, absurdities, uncertainties ... and DEATH are parts of life we must accept. We face all such un-chosen contradictions by chosen ones we make, i.e. jokes (like using a serum, a processed poison, to treat another poison).
Laughter is ludicrous, like many things in life that do not make sense yet we have to live with. It's not the most important intellectual activity, social behavior or meaningful action, but it's needed to cement ideas, behaviors and actions, respectively, together.
It's good to have different types of relief other than laughter, such as fantasies, books, conversation, travel, work, hobbies, etc. But it's better to also laugh, because it's is a free, useful, enjoyable, natural, mental and physical workout. It's a game: we disarrange our thoughts like puzzle peaces, then put them back together.
Many social behaviors are particularly contagious among humans, as well as other primates, which are difficult to control or suppress; such as the ones related to body language and facial expressions, and many other activities managed by the lower primitive brain. Like our cousins, we used to mimic each other's expression as a way of communication and for social solidarity, long before we developed our modern language systems. There's no surprise now that our physical response is still faster than the mental one, and we find it difficult to suppress a laugh or yawn or clearing one's throat only because someone else just did it, etc—except by training and letting the higher brain take control. (You don't want to laugh in a funeral, or yawn while giving a speech, or entice the sleepy person in the driver's seat to share your final sleep together!!!)
Little wonder then that some still insist on laughing at jokes that are not "witty and funny contradictions"—in other words, stupid, silly and boring jokes! Yet, this very fact, the mimicking genes we carried from other animals, can act as an amazing shortcut to laughter: Just look long enough, without thinking, at people laughing ... and you will start laughing too!
Physical laughter is the simplest form of laughter that doesn't need jokes to understand or memorize, or people to share them with: it requires no thinking or socializing. Although it's a meaningless mindless activity, we should still cherish it, just as we do with any exercise useful to our health and mood, because it's similar in effect to other relaxation techniques, e.g. message, sauna, deep breathing, showering and bathing ...etc.
Physical laughter is mostly needed when we can't think of jokes (because of lack of concentration, suffering pain or stress ... etc.); or when we can't find people to laugh with. The more the stress is, the simpler the joke should be:
Some available drugs can induce laughter, but "tickling" is difficult to achieve alone because it's a physical response to an exterior "safe attack" we didn't expect. (We mindlessly laugh at the contradiction between being attacked in sensitive areas, and the gentle nature of the attack and attacker, us or another person, that wouldn't harm us). However, with practice, we can tickle ourselves, although the result is more like yawning or voluntary conscious laughing, than a good hearty belly-laugh.
• Take laughter seriously. Don't wait till you hear a joke, come across an irony, or run into a funny person. Go search for some to enjoy, keep and share. Then find more when they get old, although some jokes never age.
• Include funny people in every group you make, and search for them in circles you join: they are the ice-breaker of relationships and the comic relief in tedious, serious, stressful or nervous activities. If you have friends, make sure to have at least one who is humorous or appreciates humor and the humorous side of life. Sometimes, when we live so long in the dark, we forget to see the bright side of things, that we need someone else to remind us of.
• Include funny objects in your house, workplace, computer desktop, bedroom, dining room, bathroom ... Comic and caricature representation of life can usually and quickly do the job, because of their exaggeration and simplicity.
• When you are in a mood that doesn't allow much thinking to get a joke, it's better to laugh at simple things like funny animals, children, or people who are too simple, too spontaneous or just too happy to fake a joke.
• Laugh for yourself. If you "alone" find something funny, don't worry whether other people find it funny too, or whatever they think when they see you laughing: rude, dumb, weird ... Neither should you laugh at a joke you don't like, although you may smile and ask for another really good one. Sometimes it's only the difference in culture and entire life experiences a person has that makes them find something funny or not. Although sharing a joke you don't understand is still fun, "getting it" even alone is more fun. You deserve to please yourself "first and foremost" whether others can give or share with you your pleasure. Other people respect and trust us more when our pleasures and knowledge are sincere, based on first hand personal experience. If a joke, food, song, movie, trip, book ... is enjoyed for itself, it is for its good quality, not for the other social and sensual pleasures we enjoy it with.
• A shortcut to to cheering oneself up is to laugh inside, by remembering a funny incident, joke told by a friend, part from a comedy you watched, etc. This is especially needed at situations where it's difficult to have access to any humorous material (in a conversation, magazine, book, TV, computer, cell-phone, etc.).
Such situations can be finishing a tedious work, listening to a mind-numbing lesson, sitting with a boring company ... that can prove challenging to one's sense of humor, with all those fun-less things and people around. Naturally then, you won't laugh out loud (else others will wonder what's wrong with you). Instead, remember the whatever irresistibly funny thought with a relaxed smile, rather than forcibly suppress it, and enjoy the relaxing sensation of endorphins going through your body.
• It's good to be attentive to ironies wherever they are, because there is always an ironic part of truth in every aspect of life. Learn how to express them to share with others later, whether they are jokes you heard, read or exchanged, old or new anecdotes or real-life incidents you had. Don't say a joke twice to the same person; else say it differently if there are others present who haven't heard it before.
Anyone can be a good joke-teller, if they enjoy pleasing others while telling, imagining and re-living the joke. As long as it doesn't distract your listener from the main subject of a conversation, lesson, sermon, etc., tell it. Jokes can put your audience in a good mood, and prepare them even for the most abstract, esoteric, "out-of-the-Milky-Way" conversation they ever had.
• It's true that laughter is contagious because we love sharing things with others, not necessarily because we understand what other people laugh about. Sometimes, we are only desperate to enjoy together, that we use all laughing tools we have (body, mind and other people) to intentionally laugh:
• Change is the nature of life. We cannot take existence too seriously because life takes us off guard sometimes, turning our being upside down. The mercurial nature of life is like that of people with quicksilver personality making others not respect what they do or say. Yet, we love life's unpredictability, and those who change their skin by the hour can still be our friends. We prepare ourselves to accept the turns of life, that could break us if we were not vigilant, strong and flexible enough to face them. If life is naturally ever-changing, then change must be in our nature too—else we'll go extinct.
• Laughter gives us the flexibility to accept such turns. There is always a place in our heart, and a time in our schedule, for a good, hearty laugh, even at the most difficult of moments!
Laughing is a mental process, accompanied sometimes by a complementary physical or social part. In laughter we turn our focus inside, to seek relief from the world outside: our brain becomes like a resort, an oasis where one can see from a distance the ironies, contradictions and sarcasm the world is full of. Then we can take it, all with a smile.
Life is the ultimate jester, who knows how to laugh at us whenever she likes; then we can but return the joke, laughing back at ourselves and her. No matter how we love life, we know eventually she will happily send us to Master Death, her faithful other half. Nothing she, or we can do about that. Were it not in the nature of things, it would be an act of cruelty by life to let us die, and be so cheated by the one we loved most, by life. So, wise people know how to love life with limits: the limits of here and now and what goes beyond for the remaining years they will live. Anything else lies beyond our capacity, and is out of our control. One must have dignity before falling in love with someone who won't return their love. This is not to say Life is bad lover; that does her no justice either: for many a time she is kind and generous to everyone, offering her free gifts to those who love her and those who don't. She deserves our love after all, for life loves us, till Death do us part—that's not a bad deal, a deal we learn to accept since day one, the day we are born.
• Absurdity is a basic ingredient of all experiences in life; everything changes 180 degrees in a blink of an eye. Contradictions are countless, and it's useless to contradict them. Only the fittest can survive, and laughing is a great survival strategy, if we know how to use it.
If you locked a little animal in a cage, then one day you found the cage empty although it was still locked, don't be surprised! There is an explanation. The small creature has grown even smaller and escaped the prison you put him in. By coping with his new life, knowing his limits, he tried everyday a new strategy, applying different pressure every time he squeezed his way through the bars - till one day he made it!
That's how flexible we should be to cope with our own life. Laughter is the lubricant that will help us sneak through the longest and thickest of bars, escaping our difficulties. We can then look back at the cage, and our problems, and say: "Don't you know who I am?!" (Probably you hadn't known who you were, either!)