This morning I’ve been listening to Radiolab’s fascinating Season Four opening podcast, Laughter, from February 2008.
About a quarter of the way through the episode, a point is made: “The most important thing to remember about laughter is that it’s social.” — Dr. Robert Provine, Neuroscientist.
“Wait,” you’re thinking. “I laugh all the time when I’m alone at home. I watch funny shows, I see a funny tweet, I get a funny text from a friend, I laugh. Out loud.”
Apparently that doesn’t count. “Those are vicarious social stimuli… You take away media, and laughter basically disappears,” says Provine.
Maybe you’ve heard the statistics. Numbers vary, but studies say children laugh anywhere from 300 to 400 times a day. Adults? Well, we’re in the 15 to 20 range.
I’ve heard these numbers many times, over many years, but I’ve never really thought about the reasons behind the disparity. It’s sort of obvious, right? We adults laugh less because adult life is less funny. Right?
But on hearing Provine’s statement, something else occurred to me.
I’ve long thought that loneliness and isolation are at the root of many of our current societal problems. In fact, loneliness and isolation and, as salve to these, compassion are among the themes of my MG/YA book, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse. When I was trying to decide on a villain, I thought, well, I can’t have Evil with a capital E as my villain, because Voldemort has been done. So what is just as bad? What is just as prevalent? What is just as scary and hurtful? And what did I come up with? Loneliness. In this novel, The Void, a vast, formless, but omnipresent entity, represents loneliness and isolation.
On listening to the podcast, a hypothesis started to build in my mind. If adults laugh less, and laughter is purely social, does that mean if we’re not laughing enough, that’s a warning sign? If we aren’t laughing enough, are we too isolated? Is lack of laughter the canary that tells us to get out of the coal mine and get back into the world with other people?
What if we’re not laughing, not because adulthood is too hard, but because we have lost our connections with each other?
P.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!
Check out Pam’s books!
- The Universes Inside the Lighthouse—YA sci-fi adventure / first in the Balky Point Adventures
- The Wishing Rock series—women’s fiction / wit, wisdom, and recipes
- The Pam on the Map series—travelogues / wit and wanderlust