The muscles involved in laughing have been traumatized by life-stress and it is well worth the effort to rehab them. As an infant your laugh was genuine and primordial. Combining anxiety with fake laughing, and worrying that your laugh is too aggressive has damaged your instinctual laughing pattern. As you might expect, people that are depressed or anxious have the least convincing laughs. Extremely dominant people laugh loudly, without hesitating, at whatever they like. But most people stifle their laugh in the same way that they stifle their posture, and breathing. This is why the laughs of most adults are eccentric, and largely deviated from the innate laughing reflex. Most adult laughs hardly activate the pleasure system at all. Laughing should be intensely pleasurable and highly beneficial for your health. This entry will help you make this a reality.
Baby’s laughs are healthy and natural. Infants don’t stifle their laughs. To relearn to laugh genuinely it is helpful to watch infants and toddlers laughing. Please take some time, and search for videos of “babies laughing” on the internet and mimic them. The video below is an excellent example. Pay attention to how the baby laughs at 22 seconds into the video. This is how you want to laugh, but before you can, you need to practice emulating it.
A hearty and progressive emptying of the lungs applies a significant load to the diaphragm and the muscles of the chest wall triggering the endorphin system (Dunbar, 2017). After years of stifling laughter we have forgotten how to laugh in a genuine way that produces this response. The role of the diaphragm in laughter has been weakened so much that laughter no longer recruits the endorphin response and is draining rather than exhilarating.
The respiratory diaphragm is the main muscle responsible for natural laughter. Fake and nervous laughter comes from the throat and often results in increasing tension rather that relieving it. By training yourself to laugh through deep contractions of the diaphragm and abdominals you can rebuild an authentic laugh. These muscles should reach exhaustion and start to fail during a good laugh. If your diaphragm and abdominals start to burn like they did when you were a child, you know that you are doing it right. The next exercise will show you exactly how to retrain your diaphragm to cooperate in the laugh.
Composed Kindness #3: Diaphragmatic Laughing
Practice laughing while exhaling completely. This is an uninterrupted emptying of the lungs with no intervening inhalations. Inhale completely only after you laugh/exhale completely. Try to make a long series of laughing sounds punctuated by vocal (glottal) closure. The brief closing of the vocal tract against the exhalation allows pressure to build and makes the laugh sound like a series of rapid-fire punches. Practice this as an exercise, and attempt to make the laugh last for at least 5 seconds, but shoot for 10 to 20 seconds. Laugh all the way to the bottom of your range of exhalation. Complete 10 to 20 such laughs a day. Try the following variations:
1) Focus on and coordinate the laughs so that they proceed at a smooth and steady rate.
2) Notice inadvertent irregularities in timing, and the tendency to gulp, choke or falter and iron these out.
3) Cause the punctuated exhalations to roll out as fast as possible while maintaining a fixed rythm. After speeding them up, try slowing them down.
4) Do this using your voice in different ranges, but focus on using a deep voice to create a deep laugh.
5) Explore your preferred ways of laughing (melody, inflection, and timing) and while doing so, modulate each.
6) Laugh authoritatively, compellingly, boldly, forcefully, mightily.
7) Employ different melodies and model other people’s laughs.
8) Watch videos of babies laughing and simulate their laughs.
9) Try laughing while exhaling completely until it turns into a wheeze, and you feel you don’t have a cubic centimeter of air left in your lungs. Ensure that the laughing pattern remains coordinated even at the bottom of your exhalation. This will greatly strengthen the muscles involved.
10) Don't raise your shoulders when you laugh, and focus on keeping them pushed toward the floor. Try to induce paroxysms of laughter without raising the eyebrows, squinting, sneering or tensing any other muscles.
11) Try to do this with a relaxed face, this will make it so that you can laugh heartily without intense facial constriction.
Because the muscles are strained, stagnant and uncoordinated, at first this will sound like the laugh of an insane villain, but with practice it will become hearty. It is important to do this exercise loudly and unhesitatingly so make sure that you are not worried that others will hear you. Try it in a closet, or in the car.
It will be uncomfortable at first. Your entire thorax will feel sore. Your chest should ache during and after the exercise. The muscles you engage may be so weak that they may feel susceptible to damage. If so take it easy the first few days and build up to doing it vigorously. Consider it a much needed workout. I believe that this exercise is a powerful complement to diaphragmatic breathing exercises and will allow you to reach muscles that you otherwise couldn’t.
It will make you feel weary. This is why I recommend doing it a few minutes before bedtime. After only one week the ache will disappear, and you will be able to push harder, and will be more adept at coordinating the pulses of laughter. After a few weeks you will be good at it, and you will find yourself laughing more often.
This exercise transformed my laugh from a perfunctory courtesy laugh to something enjoyable. Now I laugh spontaneously, heartily and much more frequently. I find laughing tremendously gratifying, and things that were barely amusing to me before are now hilarious.
I believe that laughing evolved to help humans let off steam. We brace our breathing musculature during stress and a real laugh probably helped us attain a full-range, hard contraction of the diaphragm. This contraction relieves the diaphragm of the tension caused by shallow breathing. It may be an evolved exercise that rewarded instances of camaraderie and social bonding by creating a naturally rehabilitating contraction of muscles throughout the thorax. The more you rehab it, the more you increase its potential for providing you with endorphins.