[In this extract from his inspirational self-help book Laugh and Live, which sets out the rules for a happy, zestful life, Douglas Fairbanks describes, rather emphatically, why laughter will improve your life.]
“Do you ever laugh?
I mean do you ever laugh right out —spontaneously — just as if the police weren’t listening with drawn clubs and a finger on the button connecting with the “hurry-up” wagon? Well, if you don’t, you should. Start off the morning with a laugh and you needn’t worry about the rest of the day.
I like to laugh. It is a tonic. It braces me up — makes me feel fine!—and keeps me in prime mental condition. Laughter is a physiological necessity. The nerve system requires it. The deep, forceful chest movement in itself sets the blood to racing thereby livening up the circulation — which is good for us. Perhaps you hadn’t thought of that? Perhaps you didn’t realize that laughing automatically re-oxygenates the blood — your blood–and keeps it red? It does all of that, and besides, it relieves the tension from your brain.
Laughter is more or less a habit. To some it comes only with practice. But what’s to hinder practising? Laugh and live long — if you had a thought of dying — laugh and grow well — if you’re sick and despondent — laugh and grow fat — if your tendency is towards the lean and cadaverous — laugh and succeed — if you’re glum and “unlucky” — laugh and nothing can faze you — not even the Grim Reaper — for the man who has laughed his way through life has nothing to fear of the future. His conscience is clear.
Wherein lies this magic of laughter? For magic it is — a something that manufactures a state of felicity out of any condition. We’ve got to admit its charm; automatically and inevitably a laugh cheers us up. If we are bored — nothing to do — just laugh — that’s something to do, for laughter is synonymous with action, and action dispels gloom, care, trouble, worry and all else of the same ilk.
Real laughter is spontaneous. Like water from the spring it bubbles forth a creation of mingled action and spontaneity — two magic potions in themselves — the very essence of laughter — the unrestrained emotion within us!
So, for me, it is to laugh! Why not stick along? The experiment won’t hurt you. All we need is will power, and that is a personal matter for each individual to seek and acquire for himself. Many of us already possess it, but many of us do not.
Take the average man on the street for example. Watch him go plodding along — no spring, no elasticity, no vim. He is in check-rein — how can he laugh when his pep is all gone and the sand in his craw isn’t there any more? What he needs is spirit! Energy — the power to force himself into action! For him there is no hope unless he will take up physical training in some form that will put him in normal physical condition — after that everything simplifies itself. The brain responds to the new blood in circulation and thus the mental processes are ready to make a fight against the inertia of stagnation which has held them in bondage.
And, mind you, physical training doesn’t necessarily mean going to an expert for advice. One doesn’t have to make a mountain out of a molehill. Get out in the fresh air and walk briskly — and don’t forget to wear a smile while you’re at it. Don’t over-do. Take it easy at first and build on your effort day by day. A little this morning — a little more tonight. The first chance you have, when you’re sure of your wind and heart, get out upon the country road, or cross-country hill and dale. Then run, run, run, until you drop exhausted upon some grassy bank. Then laugh, loud and long, for you’re on the road to happiness.
Try it now — don’t wait. Today is the day to begin. Or, if it is night when you run across these lines, drop this book and trot yourself around the block a few times. Then come back and you’ll enjoy it more than you would otherwise. Activity makes for happiness as nothing else will and once you stir your blood into little bubbles of energy you will begin to think of other means of keeping your bodily house in order. Unless you make a first effort the chances are you will do very little real thinking of any kind — we need pep to think.
Think what an opportunity we miss when stripped at night if we fail to give our bodies a round of exercise. It is so simple, so easy, and has so much to do with our sleep each night and our work next day that to neglect to do so is a crime against nature. And laugh! Man alive, if you are not in the habit of laughing, get the habit. Never miss a chance to laugh aloud. Smiling is better than nothing, and a chuckle is better still — but out and out laughter is the real thing. Try it now if you dare! And when you’ve done it, analyze your feelings.
I make this prediction — if you once start the habit of exercise, and couple with it the habit of laughter, even if only for one short week — you’ll keep it up ever afterwards. And, by the way, Friend Reader, —don’t be alarmed. The personal pronouns “I” and “you” give place in succeeding chapters to the more congenial editorial “we.” I couldn’t resist the temptation to enjoy one brief spell of intimacy just for the sake of good acquaintance. Have a laugh on me.”
Douglas Fairbanks, Laugh and Live (1917)