Laughter is the only free emotion. It is the essence of humanity and free will, an orgasm of the mind. If you think this is overstating the importance of laughter, here is a fact: laughter is the only emotion that cannot be compelled.
We can be forced to fear—and a good thing too—because it’s part of the reason our species survives. We can be compelled to love, because if someone is dependent for long enough, love of self and love of another become intertwined by our instinct for survival. This may mean captives loving their captors, as in the Stockholm syndrome, but the point is that this, too, is a response to the will to survive. But laughter! Ah, laughter has no tactical purpose. It can’t be compelled. It is the ultimate proof of our humanity. It just explodes from within like a great aha!
Laughter arrives when two opposites collide and suddenly create a third, when we have a flash of understanding, when a punchline changes everything that has gone before, when we glimpse a new possibility. Albert Einstein once famously said that he had to be very careful while shaving, because if he had a new idea, he laughed and cut himself.
Laughter is the most contagious of all emotions. Our pulse and blood pressure go up. We breathe faster and send more oxygen to our brains. A doctor found that a minute of laughter stimulated his heart as much as 10 minutes of rowing. It’s a full-on collaboration between mind and body.
Because the power to say things that create laughter really is a power, women are not supposed to have it. Female comics are relatively rare and new. This may also be because studies show that what women fear most in men is violence, but what men fear most in women is ridicule.
In a political candidate, we should look for an ability to laugh at oneself. I bet there's an inverse relationship between authoritarianism and a sense of humour.
Any single one of these benefits would be enough to make us value laughter, but the big one is this: laughter is a proof of freedom. No-one, but no-one, can force us to laugh. When we experience this orgasm of the mind, we are truly free.
So use laughter as a guide: try to stay away from places where you’re not allowed to laugh, including religious ones. The absence of laughter is a giveaway that the religion in question is more political than spiritual, more about a hierarchy with God at the top than about godliness in all living things.
Try to stay away from workplaces where laughter is absent. The degree of freedom where you work is indicated by the presence or absence of laughter.
Try to stay away from social settings with no laughter. Your ability to laugh is a sign that you’re doing the right thing with the right people in the right place. Laughing together creates instant community.
Whatever makes us laugh is a good thing, from elaborate jokes to stand-up comedy, but I have a special fondness for spontaneous, in-the-moment laughter.
There is an old tradition in Native American culture, where laughter is personified by the “Trickster”, a male or female or male-and-female spirit, who may turn up anywhere. Unlike the “court jester” or the “circus clown” who make the powerful laugh, the Trickster is free, a paradox, a crosser of boundaries who breaks into sacred spaces and lets laughter out.
Since one Indian country belief is that a sacred space can be pierced only by laughter and prayer, there is also a belief that if we can’t laugh, we can’t pray. Laughter is the ultimate in “you have to be there”. I hope you will let laughter be your guide to freedom.