Soap Operas seem to promote “serious issues”, our media is heavily punctuated with seriousness… Being serious seems to be proliferating our existence… Then grows into fear… and what with all this recession scaremongering… Sheeez!

This weekend I am running my hypnotherapy training diploma and one of the subjects that I am teaching is “how to be happy.”

Hmmm… It is my way of showing my students how to work therapeutically with a variety of people displaying depressive symptoms and thought it a better title to that section of the day than “dealing with depression” which so many training schools do and never inspired me for the learning ahead….

I must say, on the course, we laugh a great deal. We really do have fun, I insist upon it… Yet I do not think that I ever explain why I find it so important.

I watch comedy every week… Heck, I spend lots of my day working with people diagnosed as being depressed, ill, fed-up, limited in some way etc, etc… I think laughter is a crucial tonic to keep me in my merry place. So while you wade through group emails from your friends today entitled “Friday Funnies” let me ask you a very important question….

How much do you really laugh?

Not that polite titter you do in response to certain things… I am talking about a full-hearted, belly bursting, proper laugh.

Some people find laughter a serious business! I can remember watching Paul McKenna running a training seminar and anchoring laughter and giggles into someone on stage and he was pretending to be a ‘Gestapo’ like character and kept saying to the guy “You vill not laff! Zis iz seee-ree-uss!” I know, you had to be there, but it took apart the notion of laughter being a serious business, the guy on stage was in fits of giggles and it had me rolling about the place…

Getting fun and laughter out of some folk is like blood out of a stone… Apparently, the average adult laughs 15 times a day; the average child, more than 400 times. Fair enough, kids are learning their way through feelings and emotions and could be giggling wildly one moment and screaming in anger the next, however, you get my point, don’t you?

The reason I am discussing this today is that it is well documented now that developing and maintaining a sense of humour helps prevent and lift clinical depression because laughing produces ‘feel good chemicals’ and even subdues physical pain, humour helps us reframe events and ‘get outside them’ rather than feeling bogged down by them. A well developed sense of humour attracts other people to us socially and wide social networks are also a preventative and palliative as far as depression is concerned.

Heck, if you need any more convincing of this notion, then watch Robin Williams starring in the film Patch Adams which articulates the point very well indeed… An unconventional doctor who actually encouraged his patients to laugh and be mischievous in the face of more conventional serious healthcare of the time.

We all need to cultivate humour not just to lead happier lives but to encourage flexibility of thought.

Of course people with a sense of humour can develop depressions — some of my favourite comedians apparently suffered from depression — Frankie Howerd, Kenneth Williams (and Benny Hill — not really  favourite of mine) — Though I did watch more than just carry on films as a child developing a sense of humour, hahahaha. You can see it though, can’t you? That is, one of the first symptoms of depression setting in can often be losing ones sense of humour — heck, helping that person find it again could well be just the remedy!

Humour can provide us with seriously important and valid perspectives, goodness, my Mum used to always say “never a truer word is spoken in jest...” I used to frown at her saying that… Until I actually listened to the jokes my friends used to make about each other in the pub at weekends when I was younger and I started to realise!

Some say that people who joke in the face of diversity may be suffering ‘denial’ — ususally it is the stuffy, conventional mindset that thinks such a thing, pulling us into some sort of insistence to conform to being properly miserable… And there I was yesterday, waxing lyrical about embracing a full range of negative emotions! 

I’d like to think that instead of denial, they simply possess a developed capacity for objectivity. Never let us forget that it was Oscar Wilde who on his death bed said ‘Either this wallpaper goes or I do!’ Hahaha…

Have you really laughed today; even inwardly? Have you found the humour in what is going on?

When I was at school, I often found myself sat in the front of the headmaster being told off for being naughty… School did not stimulate me, I needed more than just verbatim regurgitation of information as my school curriculum mainly comprised of… Yet whenever I was there perplexing the headmaster (I think it irritated him that I got straight A’s) and he was shouting away, I’d find something ridiculous, I’d find something funny and I’d start giggling… “Eason, stop this insolence!” came the roar… You know what happens when you bottle up giggles, they want to burst out of your skin, they increase and amplify and everything becomes hilarious… Man, that is a glorious sensation.

Even today, the same happens if I have to sit quietly being serious with my solicitor, bank manager or accountant. They must think I am strange for giggling so much…

When we take things seriously, when we make life such a serious business, I think it can become far less flexible… It becomes staid and stagnant and joy finds it hard to exist in such a place.  

I don’t know about you, but sometimes people make you feel defensive, I used to allow myself to feel defensive, until I started joking and laughing things off… It genuinely is the cornerstone of my therapeutic technique these days… You may have heard or read the story I use about when a man came to see me and said (whilst frowning):

Mr Eason, I think I am going to be tough for you to deal with…”

I smirked, thinking “please call me Adam

I have been seeing one of Londons top psychiatrists for the past 5 years and I have been diagnosed with clinical depression, he has referred me to you… Like I said, I am certain I am going to be tough to help…”

He slumped in the chair, his frown almost stubbornly insisting that he was depressed and he wanted to stay that way! However, he clocked me smirking a second time… Uh-oh…

Mr Eason, don’t you think you should be taking my problems a bit more seriously?!” He bellowed (In a way not uncharacteristic of my school headmaster!).

Nope.” I said.

If you want someone to take your problems seriously, then you really have come here under a mis-apprehension… I refuse to take your issues seriously… Most other expensive therapists will gladly be serious with you, but I won’t. I find it hilarious that after 2 years of going to the same psychiatrist and getting nowhere, you opted for another 3 years! You must realise how funny that seems… I mean, why would you do that to yourself… You could just beat yourself with a stick or something…”

I explained in detail, the serious value of laughter and fun and when he walked into my office for his 4th session he ripped the piss out of the shirt I was wearing… Ha! I knew we were making progress.

Humour has always been banned under dictatorships; comedians are seen as a threat. Why? Because humour can illuminate truths, break through the constraints of narrow thinking and puncture self importance. Humour shows we are not afraid. Tyrants hate to be laughed at and they certainly don’t laugh at themselves. But the really surprising truth is that we all live under types of dictatorships.

Human beings often create, then subsequently live within the constraints of their own personal psychological dictatorships. Like the guy I mentioned  before.

These personal restrictive ‘jails’ are built on a solid foundation of rigid rules and assumptions of right and wrong, with walls of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and ‘mustn’ts’, strong bars of perfectionism, unbreakable locks of defeatism, and guards of arrogance on constant duty to ‘be right’. And that arrogance can extend to ‘being right’ that one is totally inferior to other people. Or that life is bad.

The right humour applied at the right time by the right person can work as an escape tunnel… Burrowing out and away from stifling narrow seriousness and restricted ‘one track’ perception.

Surely these days, we are all increasingly aware of the mental and physical health benefits of regular laughter. Many studies illustrate that genuine laughter  reduces stress hormones, relieves pain, relaxes us and produces endorphins and serotonin. Laughing regularly can ward off depression and help you sleep better and generally enjoy life more. We even call people who make us laugh ‘a real tonic’.

Rght now, if you force a smile onto your face 3 times in a row, you can even feel the small shot of serotonin you just fired into your body from your brain as it associates that within you…

Humour frees up restricted and limiting thinking. In my experience, all good teachers, therapists and leaders have instinctively known how to use humour … See how much truly exists in your day-to-day existence and think of injecting more… Have a thoroughly enjoyable weekend, with lots of laughter — I know all the people on my diploma course certainly will be.