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Martorella: Laugh out loud

The Snapple fact on the cap of my lunchtime tea stated: “The average 6-year-old laughs 300 times per day. The average adult: 15 to 100.”

Oh, wise Snapple writers, thank you for bringing attention to a serious problem infiltrating households everywhere: Humorlessness. While the actual research varies on the specific daily laugh number (some studies report kids as high as 400 and adults as low as 4), it has repeatedly been proven that children laugh a great deal more than adults. Researchers could have saved a lot of time and money if they just spoke to moms, at least the ones I know, who frequently complain about this loss of humor, often tied to the bigger overall loss of our pre-parenting identity.

We all remember a time when we were fun, even funny, back when we had few responsibilities beyond caring for ourselves. Before our days were filled with other people’s needs, schedules, illnesses, activities and messes on top of our own. Now many of us find ourselves spending so much of our time shouting orders, making repeated requests (I refuse to use the word “nagging”), and hurrying things along, that we have difficulty accessing our old amusing selves. Our carefree laughter is often replaced with a different kind of humor, one that is self-deprecating or sarcastic. And that’s not funny for anyone.

There is nothing like the sound of a child laughing. Baby laughs are adorable, but children’s laughs are hearty and heart-felt. They are honestly amused and reacting in the purest way.

We seem to lose this as adults, or at least the occasions for such pure unadulterated laughter are minimized. Not only because we are more laden with stressors and responsibilities, but because we are socialized to censor ourselves. We get more self-conscious, more “proper,” more “politically correct.” We feel responsible for being role models for our kids and don’t want to be caught laughing at something that might be offensive or inappropriate. We even discourage laughing with our children if they are misbehaving, no matter how cute, to avoid encouraging continued mischief.

According to Dr. William Fry of Stanford University Medical School, a pioneer in the field of laughter research, laughter has many of the benefits of physical exercise. It lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, improves lung capacity, massages internal organs, increases memory and alertness, reduces pain, improves digestion, lowers stress hormones, exercises muscles in your chest and abdomen, and even benefits other muscles not directly involved. Dr. Fry said that laughing 100-200 times per day provides as much cardiovascular exercise as rowing for 10 minutes! (And requires no special equipment or clothing.)

PBS host and youth educator Michael Pritchard puts it more succinctly, stating, “You don’t stop laughing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop laughing.”

When I need a quick laugh, I have a few go-tos. Sometimes I’ll watch America’s Funniest Videos with my son, whose gut-busting guffaws at the slapstick humor are much more entertaining than the videos themselves. I might view a short clip of my 4-year-old singing Disney songs to delight in her sincere operatic delivery of misunderstood words. Maybe I’ll text a college friend who never fails to deliver on an old private joke. Or check out my Twitter feed in which local and national news sources are interspersed with humorists who always supply a funny one-liner or two (try The Honest Toddler or The Onion).

Once in a long while something strikes me so funny that I literally can’t stop laughing. It’s not always an obvious joke (in fact, it usually isn’t), and it’s not always in an appropriate spot (again, often not), but nonetheless, I find myself bursting forth uncontrollably with snickers, chortles, and ultimately tears, like that classic scene from The Mary Tyler Moore Show when Mary laughed through Chuckles the Clown’s funeral (okay, I’m dating myself, but check it out on YouTube for another guaranteed laugh). Clearly it’s a release of months of emotion and tension that have been held in check, and I love when it happens, no matter how embarrassing, because it’s a piece of myself that I recognize from my youth.

Our lives are stressful, and tedious, and sometimes irritating, and it’s often hard to find the humor in the moment. If we can step back and laugh at least a little about some of the frustrations tackled on an average day, it will benefit ourselves and our families. So if you see me chuckling randomly to myself around town, don’t be concerned. Please join in!

Rebecca Martorella, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist, author, and mother of two. She works with individuals, couples, and families, and can be reached at themomfront@optonline.net.

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