‘When I’m unhappy, stressed, or depressed, sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is laughing – can I really laugh myself into a better mood?’This is a common laughter yoga, nls: natural laughter skills, and laughter meditation question.
The psychologist William James observed ‘We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh’.
But does laughing always make us happier?
The key is willingness.
Willingness empowers every stress-busting, mood-lifting activity we undertake. Particularly when combined with mindfulness, willingness can break us free of anxiety and even depression. The impact and benefit can be long-lasting. We can become happier.
To activate our willingness, one way is to use the inner smile, a classic Taoist/Zen as well as mindfulness-based stress-busting technique.
How do we activate it?
- Breathe: start taking slow deep breaths, breathing out more slowly than you breathe in
- Relax: focus on loosening and dropping your shoulders, and do some backward shoulder rolls, maybe even backstroke movements
- Smile: soften any habitual facial mask by allowing a hint of a smile across your mouth and eyes
- Internalise: drop this feeling as deeply into your torso as you can, focusing especially on your heart, belly and perineum
- Laugh: use the power of your mind to bring some pleasant, happy thought or memory into your awareness and have a quiet chuckle.
- Feel – be mindful: in an aware, attentive, mindful way take a moment to feel and register the quality of what you’ve just experienced
- Repeat as often and as much as necessary
This and other exercises are in the book ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’, co-authored with the Barefoot Doctor.
As ever, the more you use this practice, the better it works, because you’re learning new habits. You’re harnessing your brain’s neuroplasticity, its ability to create new neural pathways. You are increasing grey matter concentration within specific areas of your brain which are involved in learning & memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and re-assessing perspective.
What practical benefits do these bring? Among others:
- You energise your stress-busting, mood-lifting, happiness-boosting processes
- You strengthen your ability to be more mindful, to ease anxiety and depression, and to lift your mood at will
- You develop the knack of becoming more optimistic, resilient and happier
All you need is willingness, and yes, you can laugh yourself happier. People do all the time. This why Dr Kataria, founder of laughter yoga, says: ‘it’s time to take laughter seriously’.