Frank Talk Yemen Is Short on Laughter [Archives:1999/47/Culture]

November 22 1999

Dr. Paramod Kumar 
Taiz Univercity 
There are occasions to be solemn and occasions to feel elated. When a good number of people habitually put on glum faces, it is time to worry. If we lose the capacity to celebrate the lighter moments of life, we are a doomed lot. We are bereft of an important revitalizing source of energy. For sure, there is no substitute for mirth and light-hearted wackying. 
If you look at some people you get a feeling as if they are waiting for some disaster to happen. They appear as though they are carrying the whole world on their shoulders. 
It is true that at times the going gets tough but different individuals respond differently to similar situations. The point is, a positive outlook not only reduces stress, it also increases the chances of a positive outcome by at least some percentage points. 
Modern medicine fully understands the value of laughter. New findings support the view that it acts as a safety-valve, a release mechanism, in the high-tension context of modern life. Contemporary opinion is so gung-ho on the necessity to laugh that periodic self-induced laughter sessions are becoming a routine part of man’s daily life. Laughter clubs are being formed in many parts of the world. The members of those clubs assemble in open spaces and laugh their hearts out. The ever-swelling membership of such clubs testify to their effectiveness. People from all cross sections of society participate in such hilarious exercises. 
Interestingly, man is capable of producing a wide variety of laughter. For example, from the throat you can giggle, chuckle, cackle or coo and when the lungs get involved, you get the horse laugh, while the abdomen-splitting laughter is the belly laugh. But, if you are a legendary someone, you can take recourse to Homeric laughter, moving the earth and heaven with your echoes. 
The corporate gurus know the virtue of putting on an easy, relaxed manner even in a boardroom environment. The message is often better received in a congenial atmosphere than otherwise. In normal life too, it holds to a great extent that many a truth is told in jokes. 
Sulking, grumbling and throwing temper-tantrums will leave you isolated, exhausted and unwelcome. ‘Weep and you weep alone, smile and the world smiles with you,’ is a time-tested dictum. As nectar to the bees, so is good humor to companions. A man with a cheerful countenance is actively courted by one and all. 
Laughter is a master-key that opens many locks. A person beaming with confidence and who is happy all round, electrifies his surroundings. Laughter, indeed, is infectious. It spreads faster than any known virus. 
To see an infant chuckle in joy is one of the most enriching experiences of our life. We feel like joining issue with John Keats’ address to the nightingale, ‘………While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad / In such an ecstasy!’ This gift of ecstasy is inborn in us and we lose it progressively as we ripen with experience. The problem is more or less attitudinal and, as such, the solution may well lie within us. All we may need to do is to get rid of our inhibitions and give more room to our true selves. The anxiety level will reduce dramatically. Stress-related diseases like high-blood pressure, heart-attack, nervous break-down, insomnia, etc. will automatically take care of themselves. We will agree in the end that laughter is the best medicine. 
Can a smile do for a laugh? Perhaps not. While a smile is more sedate and serene, it is also enigmatic. It may mean anything or nothing. A laugh on the other hand, is purely and simply a laugh. It is wilder, yet more deep. It can mean nothing but mirth and jollity. Smile has its own domain, it belongs to a different class altogether. It can not be taken as a substitute for or an apology for a laugh. We must set them apart. 
The ability to share a laugh at one’s own cost is rare. It is more often that we laugh at others. It could certainly be more liberating if we occasionally dropped our guards, suspended our egos, and enjoyed raillery directed at ourselves. 
The people in Yemen, here, in this ancient land of wisdom, are not insulated from the comical aspects of life. They are quick, keen and shrewd observers of the funny and the absurd content of a situation. They are rich in wit and insight. The trouble is that a typical Yemeni character is too circumspect, preoccupied and self-conscious to let loose his emotions for public display. This fossilization of emotion has rendered him stiff. 
The solution lies in relentlessly cultivating the habit of laughter. Often, we become what we act. So, acting happy may do the trick. It may fetch a wind-fall of genuine happiness. There is no harm in giving it a go. The stakes are high. There is nothing to lose but your tensions.