my kind of laughter

There are different kinds of laughter. Just like there are different flavors of fun. I’m not sure how many kinds of laughter there are. For the time being, let’s consider two.

Before I get too pithy, there are clearly more than two different kinds of laughter. In witness thereof, I’d like to take this opportunity to share a list of 43 other kinds of laughter. It was developed by a group that has become perhaps the one reason why I’m still on Facebook. They call themselves 10 things I (expurgated) love about now. They have a better word than “expurgated” to describe the intensity of their love. I chose to keep it to myself and theirs. The list was complied by the highly commended Lori Kane.

How many words for laugh does our tribe have?

by the 10-Things-I-(expurgated)-Love-About-Now tribe

  1. the baby’s laugh
  2. the belly laugh
  3. the between-old-friends laugh
  4. the body laugh (differentiated from the belly laugh and the pee-bringer as follows: the body laugh makes people buckle and lose control of their limbs as they flail or are stuck frozen in the absence of breath while they desperately try to gasp for air.)
  5. the bubbling-up-from-the-inside laugh
  6. the chortle
  7. the chuckle
  8. the contagious laugh (the laugh that comes from other people laughing)
  9. the embarrassed laugh
  10. the fake laugh
  11. the giggle
  12. the guffaw
  13. the hiccup laugh
  14. the hyena laugh
  15. the I-can’t-believe-it laugh
  16. the I-can’t-stop-my-sides-hurt laugh
  17. the I-know-what-you’re thinking laugh
  18. the I-love-learning-this laugh
  19. the inside joke laugh
  20. the last laugh
  21. the laugh my ass off
  22. the laugh of victory
  23. the laugh that lasts
  24. the laugh to die for
  25. the laugh you laugh when you are alone
  26. the LOL
  27. the ROFL
  28. the make-light of a shared, but not completely believed thought laugh
  29. the pee-bringer
  30. the punch drunk laugh
  31. the satisfaction of an epiphany laugh
  32. the scary laugh
  33. the sexy laugh
  34. the shared-self-recognition laugh
  35. the snarf
  36. the snicker
  37. the snigger
  38. the snort (often followed by the you-just-snorted)
  39. the stifled laugh
  40. the tears-bringer
  41. the that’s-true-for-me-too laugh
  42. the titter
  43. the you-just-snorted laugh (often following the snort)

And now, to the pith wherein I contemplate two of the more major categories of laughter.

One, we’ll call purposeless. The other purposeful. I was going to say “genuine” and “fake.” I decided not to.

Purposeful laughter is the kind of laughter that people make when they are trying to get other people to laugh, or when they’re laughing because they think it’ll be good exercise, or when they laugh at someone whom they want to make feel bad, or when they laugh at someone they want to make feel good.

Purposeless laughter is the kind that comes when we find ourselves involved in something fun or funny or frightening. It’s a reaction to a situation. We don’t mean anything by it. We’re not trying to change anything or one. Not even ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong (unless you need to), I think discovering that you can make yourself laugh is genuine gift. It works. It works because it sounds funny, and if you are making yourself laugh with other people who are also making themselves laugh, it starts sounding real. Which turns out to be an easy thing to fake. And then it makes you breathe. And it makes you better.

I don’t like to make myself laugh, despite the many salubrious effects of doing so. I don’t even like to make myself smile. I know, I know, it’d be good for me, it’d make me more popular with the people who listen to me or watch me or even see me, because then I’d look and sound like the kind of guy who devotes his life to fun and play and stuff. Except a lot of time that guy isn’t joking. A lot of time that guy is trying to do something he takes very seriously, in deed.

I do so love to laugh. I especially love to laugh with other people.

But I hate the sound that people make when they make themselves laugh. I know it’s not meant to be genuine laughter. But, still, I hate how in-genuine it sounds. Same with smiles. How, well, fake they look.

I love the laughing sound that people make when they play together. It’s like the laughing sound kids and babies sometimes make. The laughing when they’re not making themselves laugh. When things are. Puppies are. People are. The game is. It sounds like their very selves are laughing.

I know, I know, it’s all oddly reminiscent of what I described, now that you think about it, as my kind of fun. But if I had to choose one kind of laughter, that’s the kind of laughter I’d want to hear myself laughing. That’s my kind of laugh. The purposeless kind.


  1. Kristin Harling on August 27, 2012 at 11:47 am

    The purposeless laugh does, without a doubt, cleanse more thoroughly, tune you more true (to borrow a Play Nexus phrase). It feels better. It releases more hormones (I’m just going on a feeling here – I don’t have evidence to back that statement). In general I don’t like to make myself laugh or smile either. It’s kind of why I don’t really like lol. It seems so disingenuous.

    All that said, I think a purposeful laugh can be genuinely good. My first thought was the Bodhisattva on the train video that went around a couple years ago. His laughter was clearly purposeful, and it made something deeply beautiful and genuine unfold. I was also thinking about the laughing circles in India. Another of those fake it till you make it deals that turns out to be a really good deal if you get to the make it part.

  2. Lily on August 28, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Thank you for not using the word fake. As a laughter leader, I use “acted” and “reactive”.

    Agreed that there’s something not quite right about the sound of acted laughter, but I have to say that in learning to act out my laughter, I have learned to let myself laugh more when things seem only a little bit funny to others. Acting out laughter has improved my ability to have that real laugh later, but sometimes it honestly feels like work instead of fun.

    I have to disagree on the smiling thing. Working in retail, sometimes smiling is the last thing I wanted to do when talking to a cranky customer, but I find that each of us can be contagious, and my best antidote to catching his/her crankiness is to purposely put a smile on my face. When I feel myself becoming cranky, there’s a little voice that pops up and it says “smile”, and I take a deep breathe and smile and things always go smoother. There were days when I would go into work already feeling sad or frustrated, and about two hours into my shift I would notice that I was feeling better, all because I was getting “paid to smile”. Now, after so much practice, I am told that I “always smile”.

    Smiles are definitely better when they reach our eyes and our souls, but sometimes they really do have to start with our mouths and our minds. To each their own though. Those that smile less often tend to have more “valuable smiles” when they do.

    Love and laughter,

    • Bernie DeKoven on August 28, 2012 at 10:57 am

      Games, playfulness, the pursuit of fun: theses are the gifts I’ve brought to people who practice Laughter Yoga. The laughter they evoke is the kind that, in this article, at least, I call “purposeless.” Though Dr. Kataria likes to talk about “laughing for no reason,” the kind of laughter that my kind of “pointless” games evokes is very different from the intentional laughter of Laughter Yoga, and adds something that Laughter Yoga practitioners have found of real value.

      I make it a practice to engage strangers, playfully. I do it whenever I can – when I take a walk, when I’m shopping, even at the doctor’s office. I make little jokes, ask them about their babies or pets, say generally stupid things. And the smiles that get generated in the process, certainly the smile on my face, is quite genuine – not because I’m making myself smile, but because of the little dance we’re engaging in, that little moment of playfulness. Granted, it’s kind of an art. Or, certainly, a “practice.” But it brings with it the same kind of purposeless delight that games bring. Only instead of high energy laughter, I get chuckles, and almost always smiles.

      I wrote an article a while ago on what I call the Blessings Game. At the end of the article, I describe a deeply instructive moment I shared with my friend and mentor Zalman Schachter-Shulami. I only recently realized that what he does with his blessings is the same as what I do with my little silly exchanges. That moment of playfulness goes very deep into the soul. The smile that it generates changes consciousness – mine and the people I share that moment with. It comes from my heart. It shows on my face. And theirs.

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