When you make eye contact with a stranger on the street, do you smile, or quickly put your head down, and pick up the pace? If you fall into the former category, chances are you’ve experienced the little mood boost that comes from having someone smile back at you. And no one knows about the power of boosting your mood quite like laughter expert, Albert Nerenberg, a.k.a Canada’s Laughologist.
In honour of April Fool’s Day, we caught up with Nerenberg, who is working with Maxwell House to promote their “Brew Some Good" campaign’to talk about the power of laughter, the phenomenon of "Laughercize,” and what you can do right now to boost your mood and add more optimism to your life.
Best Health: How did you become a "laughologist"?
Albert Nerenberg: Basically, the story is that I made a film called Laughology for CTV and that film was the first feature documentary about laughter, and had to do with the fact that we actually know very little about laughter. After I did that, I was commissioned to do three or four other films related to laughter, and more or less discovered that I know a lot about laugther because of that. I also developed a series of techniques that are used to help people cope with certain conditions. When I did the film, I learned the techniques of laughter yoga as part of the process, and was certified as a laughter yoga leader.
BH: And how did that morph into Laughercize?
AN: The idea is that you can exercise laughter. We know that laughter has positive medical benefits: it fights heart disease, it might improve your longevity, and it improves your mood and optimism. And that’s great’but how do you laugh more? It’s not that easy. Laughter is largely an involuntary behaviour, meaning you can’t just decide to do it. What Laughter Yoga is, and what Laughercise is, is techniques where you can exercise laughter. With laughter yoga, they believe a lot in silliness’if you act silly, it’s going to be funny and you’re going to laugh more. But my approach was different; I was more interested in the exact triggers for laughter. So Laughercize is less silliness, more laughter.
BH: What kind of exercises are included in the Laughercize program?
AN: One thing that’s important about laughter is that it’s a social behaviour, so you usually have to do it with other people. You can do it on your own, but it’s harder. One of the triggers for laughter is eye contact. So if you sit in a circle with a bunch of people and you laugh, you can often provoke laughter in other people. We demonstrate laughs like "The Alabama Knee-Slapper," a classic laugh where you slap your knee and you laugh. If you do that in a tight circle while making eye contact together, it’s weird how you’ll start laughing. And if you do it a couple times, everyone will laugh. There’s a whole series of triggers that you go through, and they’re all designed principally to provoke real laughter. At the beginning, you feel a little bit like, "this isn’t real," but within five minutes, you’re really laughing.
BH: How can the average person work more laughter into their day?
AN: Your day unrolls sort of like a film, and if you start your day with more positive biochemistry, you tend to get more positive biochemistry all day long. So the idea is that your morning ritual is really important. If you put more positive emotion into [your morning ritual]’if you smile, if you watch something funny, if you laugh because you watched something funny’your body chemistry changes in subtle but significant ways that then play out for the rest of your day.
BH: What are three things you can do right now to boost your optimism today?
AN: One is to smile. Even just doing the exercise of smiling is good. The second thing, is to look up. Now, there isn’t science behind this, but just the act of looking way up with your eyes, produces a slight gleam of positive emotion. And looking down has kind of the opposite effect. The third thing is to make an appointment. It doesn’t have to be anything important, it can just be going for coffee with a friend on Friday. But just the anticipation of doing something fun and relaxing is good for you. Those three things will actually improve your mood. You can also do The Alabama Knee-Slapper’just laugh and slap your right knee really hard. It works!