By Dr. Khalid Al-Seghayer
April 23, 2013
Laughter is a universal language that reflects the feeling or state of enjoyment, and is associated with feelings of well being.
The feeling of well-being is one of the basic identifiable emotions that is shared by all humans, such as amusement, anger, fear and sadness; it exists in all cultures to varying degrees.
However, laughter is one of the most undervalued and underrated tools in society. The International Congress of Humor found that laughter has decreased 66–82% worldwide from what it was in the 1950s.
In the 1950s, people laughed on average 18 times a day. Nowadays, the average is between 4–6 times a day. Thus, laughter needs to be promoted in societies to help people function well emotionally, socially, psychologically, and physically, as well brighten our outlook on life.
Some may argue that laughter has no function beyond bringing enjoyment and creating the conditions for having a joyful time. In truth, laughter serves crucial functions in our lives, and that is why it is regarded as the best medicine.
This belief is attributed to a number of functions laughter plays. Generally, it makes our mental and physical health strong due to improving our emotional state and mood.
Medically, laughter reduces blood concentration of the stress hormone cortisol. Laughter also makes our immune system stronger, improves the flow of oxygen to the heart and brain, and lowers blood pressure by increasing blood flow. Socially, laughter is a reflection of mirror neurons in our brains that allow us to visualize and empathize with people. Neurons help us to empathize with and understand people in order to strengthen relationships, to affirm positive feelings about others, and to express those feelings externally.
Moreover, having a sense of humor can cultivate friendships, facilitate bonding, connect people emotionally, and facilitate social cohesion between group members.
Laughter affects us biologically and psychologically by releasing chemicals that make us feel good. Laughter helps prevent disease, and humor helps people cope with stressful situations and relieve anxiety. Let us turn to examine some interesting facts related to laughter and gender. Medical studies have shown that gender affects the way a person’s brain responds to humor, and that some gender differences appear as early as age six. Such facts confirm the idea that women and men differ in the way they perceive, use, and appreciate humor, and in the way they view the meaning and function of laughter.
Research findings indicate that women laugh more often than men, and that neither males nor females laugh as much with female speakers as they do with male speakers.
According to some studies, women laugh 127% as much as men in a given audience. Furthermore, women who laugh at men are responding to more than their prowess in comedy.
Women are attracted to men who make them laugh, and men are attracted to women who laugh in their presence. While men often do not express preference for funny women, women prefer a male partner who makes them laugh, and as such, tend to choose funnier men as partners.
I would like to conclude by directing the reader’s attention to an observation often made by some Western writers indicating that the culture of laughter is absent in Saudi Arabia.
This observation is based on the fact that Islam discourages such universal social practices and maintains that Saudi culture in particular, and Arab culture in general, frowns upon laughter. As such, Saudi society is indeed classified as a society of solemnity. However, neither Islam nor Saudi cultures explicitly reject laughter, as long as it does not promote immorality and indecency.