Life is so serious – bring on some laughs!
I absolutely loved my grandfather. He drove me nuts as he loved a good debate and would deliberately drop a line into the conversation to get me arguing. Then before we knew it two hours would have passed. Many of his beliefs were “of his time” and wouldn’t pass muster today, he used to argue that “femininity was a woman’s greatest asset” – I of course, fiercely hated that argument, strongly believing that “our minds were our greatest assets.” I wonder what he would make of non-binary gender identities - at one level, I think he would embrace it, at another level, I am not so sure, I chuckle to imagine the resulting debate.
When I was in my late teens, he had a major stroke and I flew up to Gisborne where he lived. It was a sombre time. We didn’t think he would make it. We stood around his hospital bed to say our goodbyes. I was crying, so was my aunt and my grandmother was at his side, holding his hand and stroking his forehead. My uncle decided to crack a joke. To this day, I don’t remember what the joke was, but I remember dissolving into this wonderful laughter, full of love and sadness as a wave of huge warmth, love and relief reverberated through the room.
My Grandfather survived that stroke and lived many more years – just maybe, that laughter penetrated his brain and gave him something to fight for.
We learn to laugh, even before we learn to speak, the sound of a mother’s baby laughing after weeks of sleepless nights, is quite literally, a tonic for her soul. Laughter serves a social function – it is a way we signal to another person that we wish to connect with them. This connection probably played an important role in our evolution, cracking a joke is a fast way to show someone we are there in friendship, not in battle – provided we get the joke right!
Biologically, when we laugh, we increase our oxygen intake which stimulates our heart, lungs and muscles, we also release feel-good endorphins. The physical act of increasing and then decreasing our heart rate and blood pressure, is ultimately calming and tension-relieving – which is important for our mental health. Even our immune system gets a boost as neuropeptides are released.
These days, life can feel a bit serious. Fears of viral pandemics, dealing with the rising costs of living, international wars and feeling the need to be doing and saying the right things, can make it feel like we are walking on eggshells. To relieve this, it’s a great idea to connect with people we can feel safe with and have a good chuckle – forget the seriousness of life for a moment and celebrate the small things. Share some memories and create some new ones.
My eldest son celebrated his 21st birthday last weekend. He decided he didn’t want the standard hiring of a clubroom with speeches at the end. Instead, we had a barbeque for friends and family and he put everyone into groups of five and set out 10 challenges which they had three hours to complete – eating a raw onion, best scooter stunt, best haircut, best team photo, best streak – you get the picture. He is part of the local Dunedin surfing community and they know how to “send it” (to use their lingo).
I am not sure what my Grandfather would have made of their antics, I have a feeling he would have been right there in and amongst it, perhaps even naked on a scooter screaming down the wharf. I know, as a family, we will laugh about those videos for decades. They will get us through the moments when there are only tears.
If life is getting on top of you, find some people you feel safe with and make an opportunity for laughter – gentle or rollicking. Your body and your brain will love you for it.
By Anna Campbell
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