OMG! Before being used as an abbreviation for “laughing out loud” or “lots of laughs”, LOL was used in the 1960’s to refer to “little old ladies”! To date, LOL is used so often in our communications that it has been officially added to dictionaries of the English language! Given that the use of LOL is so widespread and commonplace, it seems reasonable to surmise that a lot of laughing, either out loud or silently, very frequently takes place. Funny enough, it so happens that laughter is a universal hardwired response for individuals of all cultures to stimuli (either internal or external) that incite certain rhythmical contractions of the diaphragm.
At about 4 months of age, the cheerful chime of a baby’s first giggle will resound in households and, as though it were somehow “contagious”, genuine smiles then spread from one person to the next. Over time, babies seem to develop the ability to be comedic and engage in actions that result in adults/caregivers to LOL. Realistically, neither babies nor toddlers undergo rigorous training to aid in the flourishing of their funny bone, so where does this ability come from? Does it have an expiry date on it or does it mature and ripen with age? It depends… How absurd!
What’s So Funny?
Similar to when adults take a second or third glance at something that seems “off” or is unfamiliar in some way, infants also stare for longer periods of time at stimuli that violate the standards they are creating than they do at more familiar stimuli. For example, infants more often see adults putting pots and pans on top of a stove than on top of their head or in front of their face; while the former is not really stare-worthy (as it is consistent with what they have seen before), it is likely for the latter to be stared at for a longer time while they try to make some semblance of sense out of what is happening. When an event is incongruous with newly developing “norms”, it just might be absolutely hilarious to the young one! Pair this with humorous cues from the social context or persons previously associated with humour and further uproarious and contagious laughter ensues.
Even as adults, we laugh at the mismatch or absurdity of what has been presented in words or forms; said another way, when we “get the punch line” of a joke (understand how impossible or absurd the premise of a joke actually is), our diaphragms contract and produce a distinctive sound; in plain terms: we LOL.
Yes. Seriously. For young and old alike, being thrown off guard by seeing or hearing (or smelling or tasting or touching) something other than what is usually experienced often results in laughter, or at least a smirk. Even when jokes “get old” (lose their novelty or absurdity), it is as though there is an unspoken expectation to acknowledge the humorous component of the remark. Think of when you text “hahaha” rather than LOL. Such a subtle difference that carries so much meaning!
Perhaps you have experienced instances whereby an “outdated” and familiar joke became hilarious again when told by someone else or was told in a different setting or in a silly vocal tone. So humour does not have an expiry date per se; it simply fluctuates in its’ maturity.
To a large extent, it is as though it is difficult to not feel good (in your body) when you genuinely smile or laugh as well as feel good on an emotional level. Is it possible that LOL could be a remedy for the aches and pains we all feel at times during our day to day lives?
Laughter Really is an Effective Medicine
Perhaps you have heard and/or are familiar with the common adage “laughter is the best medicine”. Mental health professionals and physicians alike have supported such a claim. Jordan Friedman, author of The Stress Manager’s Manual, has advocated for the widespread benefits of regular “doses” of the powerful medicine called laughter: “Humor and laughter are potent and plentiful stress reducers and spirit boosters because they simultaneously help us physically and emotionally.” Laughter has biopsychosocial (biological, psychological, and social) benefits?! How is that even possible? Let’s check this out.
On the physical level, laughter releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers and can strengthen the functioning of the immune system, decrease muscle tension, and increase pain tolerance. In fact, laughter has even been shown to have analgesic properties and cleanse the body of the stress hormone cortisol.
Cognitively and emotionally, humour and laughter have the effect of breaking negative thought cycles, which could subsequently reduce feelings of sadness, anxiety, and frustration. Psychologist Alice M. Isen has noted that “any joke that helps you feel good is likely to help you think more broadly and creatively”; said another way, having and expressing a sense of humour can help us to listen and learn with an open mind and open heart rather than with rigid and inflexible fixed mindset.
LOL helps to foster good relationships and ease social settings often fraught with tension (such as awkward situations at work or school). Jordan Friedman notes that: “when we laugh with others, we feel more connected with them.” Recall the mysterious “contagion” of genuine smiles and giggles from youngsters: perhaps we can still do that as adults! At any time, each of us has the potential to offer those around us/our communities/the other passengers of the bus we’re on the simple, refreshing, and health promoting treatment regimen of a smile or of laughter.
The numerous benefits of laughter also apply to intimate relationships: John Gottman, marriage and relationship psychologist, has found that “marriages are only as good as (the couples’) history of laughing together.” Being able to laugh with each other in good times and bad enhances both the relationship itself, as well as the overall health of each partner!
All in all, there is a plethora of evidence that good natured humour and laughter really can be just what the doctor orders.
When considering all of these benefits of laughter, an important distinction needs to be made: laughing with others or oneself is not the same as laughing at others or oneself. Here is another very subtle yet significant difference that carries great meaning. Insulting or demeaning or derogatory quips or poking fun at someone or oneself with a nasty intent are not the kind of humour that is being referred to; these kinds of “humour” hurt more than it help. Adding humour and laughter to your daily life is intended to illuminate what would otherwise be gloomy or dreary events and to broaden perspectives; misusing humour could effectuate longstanding and easily triggered wounds.
When in doubt as to whether someone is hurt by the kind of humour you are using, ask and/or clarify what you meant or are saying. When appropriate, assertively and genuinely apologize. What is perceived as funny or humorous to one person could be perceived as mocking and hurtful to another. Further, sometimes laughter could be inappropriate: think of when a friend tells you about a tragic loss in his/her life. Laughing at such a situation is not likely to be received well. Rather than lightening up a melancholy situation, laughing at such news could be hurtful and damage both the relationship and each person involved. This might sound like common sense but I deem it important enough to include here.
Your Mission Should You Choose to Accept It
The only helpful tip I have related to the subject matter of this article comes more in the form of a challenge for you rather than a list of practical tips: laugh. At nothing in particular or in response to a joke or funny situation that you recall. Just laugh. Laugh at the absurdity of laughing for no reason. ROTFL (roll on the floor laughing) if you want! I am not prescribing any specific duration or intensity or pattern: you choose!
Note what that was like for you: did you notice any difference, however slight, in what or how you were thinking and/or feeling? How do you feel in your body now? How do you feel emotionally?
LOL. We all know how to do it: it is a natural process that we have been doing since we were infants. Maybe it has seemed daunting or exceedingly tough or ingenuine to even crack a smile at particularly tough times in your life. That is understandable! We have all been there at one time or another. I know I have. That does not mean or imply that the skill hardwired into all of us has rusted away beyond repair. Go on, show yourself or remind yourself how it’s done: LOL
We do not necessarily need a “reason” for our mirth… For those who do, what better reason to laugh than to have fun and just feel good!