It has long been known that laughter not only improves one’s mood, but it also has physiological benefits such as increasing blood flow to the heart, reducing stress hormones, and improving the immune system. British researchers have shown that fifteen minutes of laughter will enhance the level of endorphins, the body’s naturally produced pain killers.
What may be surprising is that even fake laughter appears to have the same benefits. Based on this principle, an enterprising hypnotherapist in arguably one of the most stressed out cities in the world — Hong Kong — has set out to make as many people as possible laugh. “In Hong Kong people don’t laugh because they are under constant pressure to make more money, to make life better,” says Dick Yu, who has started close to one dozen laughter clubs in the Chinese city over the past five years.
Yu is not a comedian. He uses the concept of laughter yoga — made popular as an exercise routine by Indian physician Madan Kataria in 1995. His routine includes deep breathing exercises, having his class walk like penguins while giving each other high fives and reciting “Ho ho, ha, ha ha”. Because the routine itself is so comical, the fake laughter usually becomes genuine. “It was a bit awkward in the beginning when we tried to fake the laughter with the ‘ho ho, ha ha ha’, but after a while you can’t tell the difference, and you feel more relaxed,” said Kaman Wong at one of Yu’s classes.
Hong Kong has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. People value success over health, and the recent influx of wealthy Chinese from the mainland has made real estate prices and the cost of goods soar, while wages have failed to keep up. It is no wonder Yu’s laughter clubs are catching on. “The laughter club should be like a convenience store, which you have in every community. If everyone is laughing, the society will be happier,” he says.
In the meantime, Yu’s success has him laughing all the way to the bank.