“Laughing Song” by William Blake
When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy,
And the dimpling stream runs laughing by;
When the air does laugh with our merry wit,
And the green hill laughs with the noise of it;
When the meadows laugh with lively green,
And the grasshopper laughs in the merry scene,
When Mary and Susan and Emily
With their sweet round mouths sing “Ha, ha he!”
When the painted birds laugh in the shade,
Where our table with cherries and nuts is spread:
Come live, and be merry, and join with me,
To sing the sweet chorus of “Ha, ha, he!”
Laughter is a part of the universal human vocabulary. At times it unites us, while at others it divides us. It is a powerful tool in the hands of both the wise man and the fool. It uplifts as quickly as it depresses, and its expression is often highly contagious, in both its positive and negative forms.
Laughter is also a form of confirmation bias. To those with a generally positive outlook on life, laughter comes more often than not in relation to life’s pleasures. To those more cynically inclined, laughter is usually unleashed as a broadcast to others of the ripening of expected failures. People love to be right and laughter is often a flourish used to announce the coincidence of prophesy and outcome.
Though laughter is typically said to be an involuntary response to internal and external stimuli, I would argue that the general orientation and inclination of one’s heart – which is what it is because of choices you have made over time – influences this “reflexive” activity more than we might imagine. Laughter is often the product of a habit of response and like any habit, it seems uncontrollable when the habit is sufficiently well-worn.
Old habits are hard to break because our neural networks adapt to accommodate them. Mental and emotional responses become hard coded in our operating system and changing habits such as these requires a sustained campaign of movement in a new direction. But more importantly, it requires a change of heart with respect to the nature of life itself.
Those who laugh at the expense of others do not trust life, because they do not trust themselves. They laugh at others’ misfortune as a means of personal gain, in order to prop up their own shaky self-confidence, but in the end they only make matters worse by failing to bring that which would uplift, unlock, repair or heal into the situation.
The next time you find yourself laughing – and I hope it is soon! – take a moment to ask yourself: “Is this laughter a blessing?” If it is, then laugh harder, longer and louder; if not, bite your tongue and formulate a more creative response.