You’re in a waiting room full of snot-squirting people and ill-behaved children. Somehow you’ve managed to get your hands on a magazine** that’s actually dated after Obama was elected president and are currently enjoying the dear Deirdre section.
You’re chuckling quietly reading about various sexual dilemma’s that may or may not involve canine action, but when you hit nr.12 & 13, you can’t help but burst out laughing. You try and suppress it, but snot is involved so there’s no stopping it.
People around stare at you over the edge of their magazines, or more likely, their telephone screens. They shake their heads a little, or tut-tut (who invented tut-tutting anyway?). They’re probably just jealous of the fact that someone is enjoying themselves in a waiting room (or in life in general), but still, laughing out loud in public is frowned upon. Especially when alone.
Online you can LOL all you want, but in real life, in public, you let out a few guffaws walking by yourself and people look at you like you’re wearing a very colourful thong while blowing on a flute.
Curiously enough, if you were walking with someone and you’d snort with laughter it would be socially accepted. Except perhaps if it’s Sunday and you’re in Alabama.
Hear a pin drop
Though it is true that you’re more likely to laugh when you’re with someone else. According to laughing expert Robert Provine, people are 30% more likely to laugh in company than when alone. Provided the material has some tiny spark of humour in it. So you’d probably still hear a pin drop watching Freddy got fingered with a hundred people. Not that that film could draw a hundred people.
Laughing at a funeral
So what’s the reason we have a greater tendency to giggle, guffaw and crack up when there’s someone else present? Even if there’s nothing funny going on? (You wouldn’t be the first one to laugh at a funeral). Well, it turns out humour doesn’t always come in to causing laughter.
There’s the polite laughing: when you’re talking to your boss, chances are you’ll be chuckling at any banal remark trying to pass as a joke. It gets worse when you’re talking to someone you actually want to be your boss, i.e. in a job interview. Hell, you’ll be laughing at the knock-knock jokes like there’s no tomorrow.
Laughing is like social ointment; you want the other person to like you, you laugh. You want to make someone feel at ease, you laugh. Even among friends you might laugh at things that are actually not that funny, but laughing connects people.
Live nude models
And then there is of course nervous laughter. If you’ve ever taken a sketching class with live nude models, you know what I mean. The theory behind nervous giggles is that people subconsciously try to calm themselves down by laughing. This may be true, but usually giggling at inappropriate moments will just make things more awkward. Being in stitches at your gran’s grave just after she’s been laid to rest is not appreciated by everyone. Even if an ice cream truck did just drive past.
Join a laughter club
But it is true that laughing reduces stress. According to Dr. Lee Berk, of a Californian University, letting out a few good guffaws once in a while is the best medicine to combat stress. It apparently shuts down the release of that nasty stress hormone cortisol and triggers the production of the feel-good stuff dopamine.
And if you’re really serious about setting those belly muscles to work and burn some of that cortisol (and calories), then there’s laughter therapy or you can join a Laughter club. Giggle away your anxiety!
** In a waiting room a magazine is preferable to a phone as you can use it to fend off any potentially infectious vapor ejected by your co-waitees. Plus you can cover up your own snot-nosed face. A magazine does however carry the risk of being covered in a trillion bacteria left behind by previous saliva-spraying waitees. So wash your hands after reading. If possible before shaking the doctor’s hand.