On the Bookshelf

Contributing Writer

Serious or silly?  Can we find the ability to laugh in either situation?  It seems that the world is always bombarding us with all of this very serious news, information, advertising and what not.  It is a very useful skill to find the humor in everything.  There are of course times that a belly laugh probably would not be completely appropriate, though we feel it would always be cathartic, regardless.  If we can see the funny side of any situation, it means we have the ability to be objective, and that is healthy.

When we laugh, chuckle, squeal, giggle, guffaw or just simply smile, the body releases an appropriate and soothing amount of endorphins, which allows the body to feel good.  Not too many people complain about feeling good, and those who do, probably have some addiction to suffering, which is a real thing.  Even the laugh in the dark, kind of scared laugh is soothing to a degree.  Laughter truly is the best medicine.  It is free.  It is infectious, and well, it just plain promotes happiness and peace of mind.

Today’s book is a gift from the editors at Reader’s Digest entitled appropriately Laughter Totally is the Best Medicine.  This book was put together with the sole intent of giving a little medicine to the people, and it does not disappoint.  There are jokes and stories to keep the reader amused for a good long time.  This is a newer edition compiled in 2018.  There are also versions from 1997 and 2011 with slightly altered titles if this one catches your fancy.

From the folks who review books for Amazon, “This collection of laugh-out-loud, clean jokes, one-liners, and other lighthearted glimpses of life—drawn from Reader’s Digest magazine’s most popular humor columns—is sure to tickle the funny bone. Packed with more than 1,000 jokes, anecdotes, funny things kids say, cartoons, quotes, and stories contributed by professional comedians, joke writers, and readers of the magazine, this side-splitting compilation pokes fun at the facts and foibles of daily routines, illustrating that life is often funnier than fiction.”  

The fact that so many people contributed to this book opens up the good possibility that any one of us can and will find something to laugh about here.  It is always interesting what some people find funny that others do not.  Sense of humor, (maybe the 8th sense or so) like the other senses varies from individual to individual.  There is a whole lifetime of conditioning that leads up to now, and it is interesting to consider where and when we learned to laugh with and at humor.  

What is a laugh anyways?  We went to How Stuff Works on the old internet to find out.  Here’s some information that may help explain this phenomena.  First the physical element.  “Under certain conditions, our bodies perform what the Encyclopedia Britannica describes as ‘rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory and involuntary actions’ -- better known as laughter. Fifteen facial muscles contract and stimulation of the zygomatic major muscle (the main lifting mechanism of your upper lip) occurs. Meanwhile, the respiratory system is upset by the epiglottis half-closing the larynx, so that air intake occurs irregularly, making you gasp. In extreme circumstances, the tear ducts are activated, so that while the mouth is opening and closing and the struggle for oxygen intake continues, the face becomes moist and often red (or purple).”  Is that not exciting?  

Alright, here are the psychological elements.  There are three theories on this topic.  First, “The incongruity theory suggests that humor arises when logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don't normally go together. Researcher Thomas Veatch says a joke becomes funny when we expect one outcome and another happens,” second, “The superiority theory comes into play when we laugh at jokes that focus on someone else's mistakes, stupidity or misfortune. We feel superior to this person, experience a certain detachment from the situation and so are able to laugh at it,” and third, “The relief theory is the basis for a device movie-makers have used effectively for a long time. In action films or thrillers where tension is high, the director uses comic relief at just the right times. He builds up the tension or suspense as much as possible and then breaks it down slightly with a side comment, enabling the viewer to relieve himself of pent-up emotion.”  That is interesting, though maybe not too funny, eh?

The bottom line is laughter seems to have a social element to it, we laugh more together than alone, and the laughter brings people together.  Maybe the fun of life and the funny bit about life has to do with simply feeling connected, and bringing others into the fold.  That seems like a good enough reason to make a little joke, laugh with a friend at the state of the world, or just to laugh and know you are never really alone.

Enjoy and read on!

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