Here's to Laughter

I’ve read that the average four-year-old laughs about 300 times a day. By the time we hit 40, our daily laugh quotient goes down to four. Did you know there’s actually a science of studying laughter? It’s called Gelotology. If it were my job to study laughter, would I still find it funny? Or would I be the jolliest person around?

The other day I was testing new audio software and needed some sound files in order to experiment. Instead of pulling clips from my archives, I started surfing my favorite site for free sounds, which is appropriately called freesound. One thing led to another and pretty soon I was engrossed in listening to clips of people laughing. Why not make my software test a thoroughly happy experience, I reasoned.

As I listened to all the laughs, I found a lot of fake ones and a lot of sinister ones. “Evil laugh” is a popular theme. But when I stumbled across ones with genuine laughter, the gut-busting variety, I couldn’t help but laugh myself. I didn’t need to hear a joke or even know why these people were laughing. Authentic laughter made me laugh. We’ve all had that experience, I’m sure. The Gelotologists probably have a fancy word for it. I just call it contagious laughter.

Science tells us that laughter triggers endorphins, promotes social bonding, reduces pain, and causes us to breathe in more oxygen— all of which make us feel better. And I only scratched the surface of the laughter literature to uncover these findings. Yet, I really didn’t need any studies at all to tell me that laughter makes me feel good. In fact, of all the sounds in the world, laughter might be my favorite.

I wrote once about My Grandfather’s Laugh. I have a collection of old family recordings and could easily listen to him speak for hours on these tapes, luxuriating in the deep timbre of his voice and the cadence of his southern accent. Yet it only takes a few seconds of hearing his laughter to conjure the full essence of him. When I hear him laugh, it’s like he’s right beside me again. [If you’re curious, you can hear a clip of his voice and laugh in the post.] It seems to me, that good-spirited laughter touches the essence of us all.

At the end of my software experiment, I had a 47-second laugh track in which I’d woven together three separate recordings of women laughing real laughs. They are hearing something we cannot. We are left to wonder what is being said in their headphones to cause such riotous guffaws. Further, the three tracks were recorded independently, so the women are not actually laughing in response to one another or even to hearing the same things. I simply put together all the laughs I liked best, my own little symphony.

Of course, this leads to only one logical conclusion. You should stop whatever you are doing right this minute and laugh. Just laugh. We might not be able to match the average four-year-old in laughing 300 times a day, but we can try, can’t we?

In case the audio player embedded in the story will not play on your device, click laughter to hear it.

Photo and sound credits: Girl laughing via Flickr by tom@hk; laugh tracks from recorded by sagetyrtle.