Tuesday, January 12, 2016

It Only Hurts When I Laugh

One week ago, I had oral surgery behind my bottom lip. Six stitches and some hardened packing material later, I went home with serious limitations on my ability to eat, talk and smile. Laughing was painfully out of the question, even a slight giggle caused me to grab my chin to try and stop the shooting pain.

I have since realized that being unable to smile or laugh without pain is a big deal for me. In fact, despite my qualifications as a Laughter Wellness Instructor and Laughter Yoga Leader, I was not really aware of how often I smile or laugh. Even before my laughter training, it was an embedded part of my personality; something that is born out by a lifetime of grinning photos (and believe me, at many times my life was nothing to smile about). My nephew once remarked, “I like Aunt Nor, she is always smiling.” It seems that I instinctively knew something that I now share in many of my presentations. Studies have shown that smiling, even when you don’t feel like it, fools the brain into thinking that there is something to be happy about. Feel-good endorphins are then released. This scientific fact is part of the whole reason for laughter wellness and laughter yoga.  The whole reason why I prefer to live on the Smile Side of Life.

But, having smiling and laughter as an intrinsic part of my personality makes me take it for granted. It is possible that I have expected it to be a part of everyone’s makeup — buried perhaps — but in there somewhere. This week, while smiling and laughing continues to be a painful thing for me, I have realized that for some people it may be painful all the time. Maybe not causing shooting pain across their faces, but causing inner pain, turmoil or confusion. Suddenly, I understand more clearly why some people at my presentations don’t “get it.” 
I don’t expect that everyone at a laughter wellness presentation will enjoy it or understand what it is all about.  Like any group activity, sport or exercise class, it is not for everyone. What has puzzled me, until now, is how strongly emotional the negative reactions sometimes are. In the same group I have gotten reviews of “we need more laughter in our lives!” to “the laughter [session] was a total waste of time, TOTALLY TOTALLY a WASTE of time!!!” From “Love the laughter training!” to “We are not children! I did not sign up for group therapy!”

The first lesson I learned from this is that there are more negative reactions in groups of people who are attending the session because it was mandatory, or it was just part of another educational presentation for their particular profession. In sessions where Laughter Wellness is the only topic, and a description of what will happen in the session is presented beforehand, this doesn’t seem to happen. And that is because the people for whom laughter is a painful experience will not come to a laughter wellness session. They are not going to laugh or smile in a group no matter how good it is for them.

The second lesson is, if there are people in the group for whom smiling and laughing is painful, they will let you know, in a strong and clear way, that this was not for them. And because it was not for them it is a ridiculous, stupid or frivolous idea. Sadly, these are people who would probably benefit the most from laughter.

And the last lesson for me is the realization that, once, a very long time ago, I also found laughter painful. Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood I lost much of my ability to laugh or see humor. Laughter had become a weapon in my house; used to belittle and punish. Bullies at school knew the power of laughter to intimidate and hurt. I remember being at a Mel Brooks movie once, wonder what the heck everyone around me was laughing at.

Maybe it was that intrinsic part of my personality that brought the laughter back. Maybe it was just part of growing up. Maybe it was reading about smiling to fool your brain long before anyone ever heard of laughter wellness. Whatever it was, laughter has been with me and I have been sharing it as much as I can for many, many years. However, the experience of this past week, and the continued pain I get when laughing or smiling, has been a good thing. It has reminded me of what it feels like to be physically or emotionally unable to laugh; helped me understand why some react so negatively to a laughter wellness presentation; and it has motivated me to find some information, exercises or alternate pathways to help those I meet who cannot laugh.
Meanwhile, hold the jokes and memes, I am almost healed. It only hurts when I laugh.



  1. Hello Noreen,

    I am sorry to hear about your oral surgery but am glad to know that you are on the mend and that it has been a powerful learning experience for you, this not being able to laugh. It seems to have opened up all kinds of insights and perspectives for you.

    I thank you for sharing your experiences. As a CLYT, far I have had more positive experiences than negative ones. I am always enormously grateful to connect with people through laughter and as I continue on this journey of learning through laughter, I am also appreciative when I can learn how from the challenges of how to reach those that are more reluctant and even negative about their laughter experience. We are all at different stages on our trip through life. As you mention, not everyone is ready to open themselves up to experience of Laughter Yoga and reap the benefits of wellness laughter. Yes, those people would probably benefit the most.

    I've had to rediscover my laughter after many years of suppressing it and feeling that something was seriously lacking in my life. I am so grateful to practice mindful and spontaneous laughter on a daily basis. Dr. K. changed my life!

    Heal well and get back to your amazing laughter!

    Love & Laughter,


  2. And I would be remiss if I didn't thank Middlesex Periodontics for the great work on my teeth! http://www.eastbrunswickperio.com/