Laughing invariably conveys a feeling of happiness and it is an expression of merriment or an inward feeling of joy and pleasure. It involves complex and elaborate neurophysiological and physiological process, humans are blessed with. Some believe that even a child, as young as 17 days, has vocal laughing chords and spontaneous laughter can be discerned in these babies. But 4 months old babies can definitely laugh though the reasons are not very easily understood. This reminds one of a joke when the reason for a baby's facial changes resembling a laughter was interpreted by some one as due to colic symptoms! Some psychologists claim that even animals like guerrillas can laugh but no scientific evidence is forthcoming to prove such claims. Many pet owners swear to the ability of their pets to laugh which, probably, only they would be able to discern.
Jokes, cartoons, tickling and many other stimuli evoke laughter. Natural laughing can be self-induced or due to external stimuli. The laughing gas, Nitric Oxide, also induces laughter when inhaled. Drugs like cannabis are known to provoke laughter. Laughter can some time bring tears and may cause mild muscular pain. Geletology deals with studies involving humor, laughter and their psychological and physiological effects on human beings. Laughing is also contagious and if one in a group is more tuned to grasp the humor in a particular laughing situation, others also follow the suit with uncontrolled laughing! The role of jokers in a circus is precisely this and the laughter they evoke through their action is so infectious that the entire audience are provoked to laugh with children. Who will forget R K Laxman's 'common man' carton in the front page of the Times of India or the famous 'Boban and Moly' carton in the Malayalam weekly Malayala Manorama which kept millions of readers laughing at least for a few minutes. The famous western comedians Charlie Chaplin, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and a host of comedians in Indian film world all immortalize laughing. 'Yeh Jo Hai Jindagi', the comedy show in Hindi in the eighties were eagerly being awaited by millions of small screen audience. It is unfortunate that most of the present day soap operas are tear jerkers, adding to the miseries of every day life in the present day world.
Many beneficial effects have been attributed to laughing if indulged in regularly. The mild analgesic effect of laughing is considered good for relieving chronic pain in people suffering from arthritis, spinal lesions and some neurological diseases. Besides it has a strong muscle relaxing effect. These beneficial effects are most probably due to increased secretion of endomorphins into the circulating blood. It is also believed that laughter fights stress through inhibiting secretion of several stress hormones and influencing the blood glucose levels. Recently it has been found that laughing can significantly influence the body weight if regularly practiced. Laughing for one hour is estimated to burn 100-120 kC and boost the energy level of a person by 20%. Walking for 15 minutes or resorting to weight lifting for 18-27 minutes is considered equivalent to an hour's laughing. During laughing the heart beats faster, boosting the flow of blood and as one giggles and gasps for air more oxygen enters the blood through lungs. Slimming experts even advocate using the laughter route to slimming. There are dedicated laughing clubs in many cities and towns and one can see the members assembling in the morning in parks and other public places to practice laughing on a regular basis in order to derive full benefits from this mode of exercise. There are over 6000 laughing clubs in 63 countries providing avenues for indulging in laughing to realize the full potential inherent in this form of exercise. There is even a special type of yoga dedicated to laughing called "Hasyayoga" which is practiced by many people.
There are some unanswered questions vis-a-vis laughing. Is there any difference between a hearty laugh and a mechanical laugh as is being done in laughing clubs? Is it necessary to involve brain and emotions in laughing to achieve good results? What about the laugh induced by Nitrous Oxide or cannabis and whether laughter under their influence can have same effect? There are many sitcoms and soap operas sponsored on the small screen and laughter arising out of these entertainment programs probably may be the best way to indulge in laughing on a daily basis. If so why not there be a 24 hour laughter channel in different languages? What about setting up a 'central laughing institute' that can help people to laugh more often and more extensively or GOI can earmark one of the institutions under its aegis which has outlived its utility as a laughing institute! Just like crocodile tears which is not natural, laughing also must be 'hearty' not artificial as some do. Foods that can induce laughter are yet to be discovered and any scientific endeavor in this direction is most welcome