I lost faith in formal meditation on a flight from Melbourne to Hong Kong. I was in a state of fully-fledged anxiety that had been present for the past three days and had no signs of it letting up. While I attempted to cure my anxiety with mindfulness, my meditation practice actually made me feel even more anxious.
It didn’t matter whether I tried to slow down my thoughts, or just sat with my thoughts and listened, or whether I attempted to be particularly present in the aeroplane listening to the sounds and seeing what was around me. Feeling the aliveness in my hands, advice which comes from one of the most respected mindfulness proponents in the world, Eckhart Tolle, simply sought to make me more aware of just how fast my heart was beating. Suffice to say, that after many hours of meditation and mindfulness, I was tired and frustrated.
“Laughter is true alignment” — Abraham Hicks.
It was then that the strangest thing happened. I watched a funny movie with the aim of simply distracting myself away from my racing heartbeat, sweaty palms and busy mind, but what I actually found was so much more — it was an antidote. Around twenty minutes of belly laughter at the movie Mamma Mia was enough to completely shift my state from highly negative and stressed to relaxed. My anxiety was completely cured and I fell into a lovely deep sleep.
The next morning when I awoke in a hot and humid Hong Kong I resolved to thoroughly research laughter and find out whether my experience was a one-off. It turns out the saying, “laughter is the best medicine”, is backed up by a raft of scientific studies and my experience was far from a fluke. I discovered that heart disease, kidney failure, arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease, anxiety, depression and even insomnia have been shown to either be cured or reduced with the aid of laughter therapy. I also uncovered further positive effects of laughter on social relationships, memory and learning.
Most compelling of all, laughter has been shown to increase life span. Korean researchers concluded in a 2005 study that optimists, and those who laughed more, were less likely to suffer from strokes and therefore outlived those who didn’t laugh as much. The results were echoed in two Norwegian studies: laughter and having a sense of humour proved to help people live longer by 31% and increased the chance of people with end-stage renal failure of living into retirement by 35%.
Laughter doesn’t just help us live healthier longer lives it can also be a spiritual practice. Laughter has been shown to produce the same gamma wave brain activity produced by experienced meditators, Himalayan monks.
One of the world’s most well-known meditators, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, knows just how powerful laughter is. Not only is he known for creating a sense of fun and joy during his official events, he even calls himself a professional laugher.
Where in the past I might have felt guilty about watching Friends or The Office instead of an informative, albeit depressing documentary, now I consider laughter, and therefore comedy and humour, an essential part of healthy living.
I no longer meditate every day or worry about being present at every moment, instead I laugh every single day as a spiritual practice. I laugh as my partner dances his way out of the shower every morning, I laugh as I listen to funny podcasts while I’m at work and I consciously select my content so that I watch mainly comedy shows, or content that is uplifting or neutral in emotion; such as shows about the natural environment, creativity, cooking or human interest. I have found that there is comedy and joy in almost every life situation if one takes the time to look for it.
Sniggers, cackles, giggles, guffaws and belly laughs are my new lotus position.