The Gift of Laughter

Laughter is indeed infectious. It has also a rumbling effect that has the same resonance upon others within its vicinity.

The old maxim that ‘if you laugh the world laughs with you and if you weep you weep alone’ is the strongest indication that laughter works. American poet, Elizabeth Wheeler Wilcox, coined the phrase in the 1880s and it had proved to be as relevant then as it is today.

A British study found that happiness is infectious, but you cannot catch misery. Scientists from Manchester and Warwick universities analysed data on two thousand high school pupils from the US. The teenagers were asked to name up to ten friends and all were then quizzed on their mental health twice, over the year. The answers revealed that happiness was contagious with someone’s good mood tending to rub off on their companions.

The effect was apparently so powerful that having a network of upbeat friends doubled the odds of recovering from depression. It could even prevent the descent into depression in the first place. The findings go to shed light on the fact that we are essentially the product of our environment. The results suggest that in head-to-head comparison, friendship would massively outperform treatments for depression such as counselling and drugs, the Royal Society Journal Proceedings B reports.

One in five Britons suffers from depression at some point in their lives and existing treatment does not help in up to a third of all cases. Anti-depressants are also expensive and can cause side effects. Manchester University researcher Thomas House said: ‘More work needs to be done but it may be that we could significantly reduce the burden of depression through cheap, low-risk social interventions. It could be that having a stronger social network is an effective way to treat depression.’

Unlike happiness, misery was not catching. In other words, the study showed that being friends with someone who is depressed will not give you the condition. However, my own feeling on the subject is you are likely to lose patience with people whose trait is bringing misery where ever they go as a result of their depression.

One’s sympathy tends to evaporate with the onset of gloom and doom, which we all try to run away from. Otherwise life becomes intolerable. When I was seventeen or so and living with my grandmother and aunt in Nazareth, I had a passion to read the books of Rafael Sabatini, sitting under the palm trees, lost in the vivid world that Sabatini conjured up. His opening line to his classic Scaramouche, says it all: ‘He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.’

His widow chose the same sentence to adorn the great man’s gravestone in Switzerland. 

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