I think that laughter is one of the great gifts that we have been given, whether it is just a chuckle, a great guffaw, or the sort of laughter with others that has tears rolling down your cheeks.

It is a true universal language that crosses all barriers, with people from all cultures and races laughing in basically the same way. Small babies can even laugh audibly long before they can speak.

Laughter stimulates the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus to produce endorphins which generate feelings of well being, and is a significantly easier way to achieve this than through other endorphin generating activities such as vigorous exercise or orgasm, and has the advantage of not needing a gym and being acceptable in public.

It has also been shown that even just curling your lips into a smile is enough to send a message to the brain to generate some endorphins, so is a great thing to do when you are feeling angry, stressed or depressed, though doing this suddenly in a crowd of people may cause panic when they are confronted by someone who suddenly looks like “The Joker” from the Batman series.

So, if laughter is such a great way to make us feel better, why is it in such short supply, particularly when times are so tough? You would expect that we should be laughing a whole lot more as we watch the whole world stagger from one financial crisis to another, and yet there hasn’t even been much of a surge of economic crisis humour. The only reasonably funny one I’ve seen in the last 2 years is:

A CEO decided to award a prize of €50 for the best idea for saving the company money during the recession. It was won by a young executive who suggested reducing the prize money to €10.

The Great Depression which started in 1929, and lasted for a decade leading up to the second world war, gave birth to an explosion of humour from greats such as Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin.

This time around we don’t seem to be laughing hard enough, and as such is it any wonder that everything is so depressing! Mort Walker, the longest drawing cartoonist in history and creator of the comic strip Beetle Bailey summed it up with “Seven days without laughter makes one weak”, and we are therefore getting weaker.

We are globally faced with ageing populations, which should be a great source of humour in itself, but there has been very little new material that has evolved. Very little has topped George Burns saying “When I was a boy the Dead Sea was only sick” or “I’m at the age now where just putting my cigar in its holder is a thrill”.

We are destroying the planet through pollution, carbon emissions and global warming, and driving many species of flora and fauna into extinction, but it has become politically incorrect to laugh at even our own stupidities.

It is political correctness that has made us too scared to laugh at ourselves anymore.

Jokes about Jews have you labeled as anti-semitic (even if you are Jewish) and jokes about Muslims bring on Fatwahs. You can’t make jokes anymore about the obese (the ample proportioned), the handicapped (differently-abled) or the aged (chronologically challenged).

Humour about certain nationalities has also become less acceptable, particularly in light of the changing world order. One can’t laugh at those nations on the decline as it is considered schadenfreude, nor at those on the ascendant in case they take revenge once they are in power.

You can’t laugh at the political left as they will take to the streets of Paris in response, and you can’t laugh at the political right, unless it is about Sarah Palin running for the US Presidency, which would be a great joke if it wasn’t so serious.

A sense of humour has become a non-laughing matter.

Someone wise once said

“As a general rule, the freedom of any people can be judged by the volume of their laughter”.

If so, we have exchanged our freedom, and the joy of laughter, for the sake of political correctness, and we will suffer for it.



In life there are some things that you should have in suitably generous servings at every opportunity that reasonably presents itself.

These are friends, laughter, sex and vegetables. Everything else in life you should have in moderation. (Note that combining the last three simultaneously may not work for everyone).

Woman holding bananas in produce aisle of supermarket, rear view close up shot of a neon sign that says sex

I believe that having great friends is a critical success factor in a healthy life.

Friends Playing at the Beach

I am not talking about people who can help you succeed in your career or in your business, or business contacts and acquaintances a la Linkedin, but people that are a serious part of your life. Friends who know enough about you so that there is no need to explain or justify what you do, who know you well and still want to be your friend anyway, who add a richness to your life just by their existence in it, and who see you the same way. The type of friends who can’t be bought, as Steve Wright (US Comedian) points out “If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?”

Robin Dunbar (British anthropologist and evolutionary biologist) came up with the number of 150 as the maximum number of people with whom we can have a meaningful relationship (Dunbar’s number).

Facebook seems to disagree as they have set their limit at 5000 friends. At 5000 your wall would need to be about the size of the Great Wall of China, and you would need to dedicate your entire life to just keeping up with the newsfeeds, and yet petitions abound to have this number raised to at least 15,000. MySpace already appears to have no limit at all. I wonder whether for many people these “pseudo-friends” have replaced real friends as, apart from keeping your life posted on the chosen site, there is not a lot of effort that has to be put into each individual friendship.

three friends holding a camera in front of themselves taking a picture

Social network junkies should however heed the warning of George Carlin (1937-2008, stand up comedian and 5-time Grammy award winner) who said “One good reason to only maintain a small circle of friends is that three out of four murders are committed by people who know the victim.”

I don’t actually believe the limit itself is as important as the reality of having meaningful relationships with whatever number of true friends you wish to have. Whatever that number may be for you, the issue is that each one carries with it some major responsibilities. If you want unconditional love you should get a dog, but every other relationship will require work and effort (See “Emptying your bucket” posted 5/8/2010).

Some of my basic rules of friendship:

  • Honesty versus criticism (family may survive criticism, friendship rarely)
  • Unquestioned loyalty
  • Their secrets are your secrets … no exceptions.
  • They are your friends because of who they are, not what you would like them to be
  • If you love them, tell them (goes for all sexes)
  • Periodic contact whatever that means and whatever that particular friendship needs
  • Help unconditionally when needed, even if not specifically requested
  • Keep your word
  • Laugh together often, even at yourselves

The conventional wisdom is that good friendships enhance an individual’s sense of happiness and overall well being. It has also been shown that loneliness and lack of social supports are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, viral infections, cancer and higher mortality rates.
US radio host Bernard Meltzer (1916-1998) used to say “A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked”.

Egg with crack