JournalismPakistan.com November 22, 2018
It is a sobering thought that babies laugh 150 to 400 times in a day. They chortle, they giggle, they smile, they give hearty guffaws. Adults do the same at an average of 5 to 15 times a day. That is quite a fall. So back to the opening question: What reduced the laughter in your life so dramatically? Ask yourself, when did you last let yourself go and have a laughter fit? 2010?
We have the standard answers. Stress, the daily grind, the life of quiet despair, the emptiness, the deceit by the conspiracies of Fate, the sense of duty, the commitment to responsibility, making two ends meet, an absence of love, the damn exhausting greyness of things - who has time to laugh? And laugh about what?
Even the 5 to 15 times is an effort, you have to drag the sun out of your clouds because so many of us now are only happy when we are miserable.
Without realizing it we grow into adulthood so afraid of not being taken seriously. If we are caught laughing, we will be seen as imbeciles. What are you laughing at? In school, at the office, in the conference room, at the big meeting, hmm, you there, what is so funny, wipe that grin off your face. In many societies, women still cover their mouths to laugh because it is bad manners to engage in that activity when others are around, especially seniors.
Think of it. Nobody gives you a Pulitzer prize for writing a funny story. There is no Nobel Prize for humor. No Oscar for the best comedy. No humorous effort gets shortlisted for the Man Booker award.
And how many chief guests are invited to any function to speak on humor to students or grown-ups? Almost never.
I gave a light-hearted speech the other day and my wife said, you are becoming flippant, no one will hold you in awe, be more mature. I was about 18 when I discovered I loved to make people laugh. I would lock myself into a room and fall over with mirth as I wrote, taking the truth and pulling it out of shape because that is what humor is, twisting the fact into crazy contortions, like your reflection in a hall of crazy mirrors. I still do that.
And all my life I have had people say, oh, your funny stuff is good but why don't you write more of the serious stuff if you want to be taken seriously?
How does one tell people that humor is hugely serious stuff, a distillation that requires extraordinary effort to be effortless and not strive to impress; it is the most difficult genre of writing because the genius lies in knowing when to stop. To not hurt or bruise feelings or insult or be crass, just pure funny so that the laugh is for real, hearty and from within. Even being a buffoon or a clown or a comedian calls for a deep understanding of the human experience.
Out there are so many of you who lost that ability to enjoy what is the basic foundation of good humor. To be self-deprecating and laugh at oneself. Now we take ourselves so seriously it would be comical if it weren't so tragic. Armed with our designations and perks of office, our inflated sense of importance and those status symbols that make us feel special, so special that we are unable to find anything but slight where no slight exists, insult where our pomposity rules the roost and outrage that we are a target.
And you know what the irony is? By killing laughter - because everyone is now so politically correct and ready to bristle and be thin-skinned to the craziest extent - we are actually killing ourselves.
The old saying has never held so good as it does now. Laughter is the best medicine. It not only releases endorphins and makes you feel good, but it also keeps you healthier. Even in stricken medical patients, laughter has been curative.
Here are three quotes from research:
1) A direct relationship was observed between a sense of humor and psychosocial adjustment to cancer.
2) Laughter stimulates alertness and memory, enhances learning and creativity.
3) Reduces stress, anxiety, and tension, decreases depression, loneliness and anger, also improves mood and increases self-esteem.
And here we are still fighting it. Go on, laugh a little, you will live longer and those huge mountains that confront you will become little hills. For a world that has largely forgotten to laugh and spends its days locked in solemnity, here is a five-point advisory you deserve. First, don't be an ass. You aren't that important and the world will still be there after you are gone.
Don't take your chair so seriously. Come to another sun up and there will be another butt sitting on it and no one will remember your name.
Treat success and failure equally. It is true they are both imposters. Neither is forever, so treat them with cheerful tolerance.
Go on then, make yourself the target of humor, see how it warms the room and increases your popularity. Stop constantly marketing yourself as the bee's knees, you are not, so let go of yourself now and then.
Not only is it like a workout but laughter can make you more romantic as a prospect, give your leadership options a boost and you are better equipped to take on whatever life throws at you.
Me, I laugh at myself and my silliness. My inability to pay bills online, my inability to sing, my inability to grasp the GPS orders, my total inability to text right words, the bricks I drop could've built a mansion, making fun of media where I have spent 5 years and co-opting family members without their permission as characters in my stories. What fun!
(The writer is a Senior Editorial Advisor of Khaleej Times and the paper’s former Editor. He has also been the Editor of Gulf News, Gulf Today, Emirates Today and Bahrain Tribune)
The Nation, December 14, 2016
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