© Robin Graham

Building on (and incorporating) ideas from Matthias, I’ve been thinking about a structure which mirrors the Olympics:


-          The Olympic Torch

-          Opening Ceremony

-          Official Welcome

-          Parade of competitors

-          The competitions

-          Awarding medals

-          Closing ceremony

-          Legacy



The Laughter Olympic Torch: (before the event)

The Olympic Torch makes a tour of the world announcing the Olympic Games.  In this case, the Museum can announce the Laughter Olympics, maybe a local school can make a ‘laughter torch’ and it can be displayed in different parts of the museum (and elsewhere) in the time before the event.



Gathering, registration and mingling.  10am onwards.

With the prizes and trophies on show, and a display of work from the HAHAs project, now is the time to greet, meet and make friends!

o   Info-Market with Laughter Groups

o   International  Comic/Postcard Exhibition

o    Stands with Funny Objects for sale

o   Jan Johls “Happiness Store” from Frankfurt, Germany

o   UK Laughter Network

o   Info sheet on the health benefits of laughter

o   HAHAs review



Opening Ceremony:  High energy , open the event with style!  Opportunity for performance:  11am

-          Music, grand opening!  Maybe with the music creation from the Manchester HAHAs week!

-          Start the event with laughter...  a Laughter Leader to bring laughter to the event (Maybe this is a role for me?).   Maybe choreograph this with a number of laughter leaders.   These leaders may be participants from during the HAHAs project in Frankfurt.

-          Maybe photograph and video compilation.   This might be input from the Paris event?



Official Welcome:  11.15am

-          A welcome speech from local dignitary / city representatives.   Can we incorporate Gibberish and translation, either in giving the speech, or in translation of it?

-          A brief word from a HAHAs person, maybe Norma, and maybe in Gibberish with translation.

-          Introduce Laughter Ambassadors from other countries where possible (Dr Kataria, India ;  World Laughter Master Belachew Girma, Ethiopia; Alex Sternick, Israel; Dr Annette Goodheart, Mexico; Dr. Eckart von Hirschhausen,  Germany ;  Dr Santosh Sahi, India; Lotte Mikkeson, Denmark; representatives from England and Scotland;…  Some of these people may already be in the UK while World Laughter Master Belachew Girma, Alex Sternick, and Dr Kataria could be invited and they could run special training events on day 2).

-          Get everyone laughing together!  Maybe use Laughter Yoga type activities such as those we used at the Ethiopia FA Cup final.



Parade of competitors: 11.45am

-         (Funny) Presentation of National Teams , each introduced, maybe dressed as stereotypes (and maybe not as their own stereotypes, eg Germans in bowler hats and strings of onions)

-        Presentation of local teams, school children and others planning to compete

-        Video or presentation with photos explaining the different Laughter Olympics  disciplines



Keynote speaker: 12 noon

It may be appropriate here to have a keynote speaker or two.  One of the overseas dignitaries would be ideal, or an expert in a particular field.  Maybe we could get a sports personality to present on laughter and sport (their funny experiences maybe)?  Maybe Jan from the Happiness Store in Frankfurt.




Lunch and preparation for the games! 12.30 or once the speakers have completed.

Lunch Break with “Funny Finger Food” and Info-Market with Laughter Groups:       

o   Info-Market with Laughter Groups

o   International  Comic/Postcard Exhibition

o    Stands with Funny Objects for sale

o   Jan Johls “Happiness Store” from Frankfurt, Germany

o   UK Laughter Network

o   Info sheet on the health benefits of laughter

o   HAHAs review


Laughter Free Zone (or maybe Free Laughter Zone) with deck chairs – controlled by the Laughter Police to relax and recharge your batteries



Let the competition commence!  1.45


                1.45-3.15pm       Heats – maybe in breakout rooms

                1.45-3.15pm       Durational and other certain events


1.45-3.15pm       During this time, for people interested, we can have a couple of shorter more serious presentations on laughter, benefits and health.  A list is provided by Matthias.  These might also form workshops on a second day.


                3.30-4.30pm       Semi finals and Finals – shown to everyone (with medals ceremony)


Heats for some activities could take place in breakout rooms where there would also be guidance from an expert.  This would depend on the number of participants.  Others would go directly to finals.


It might be nice to use several rooms anyway, and spectators can move between rooms and participants can prepare in their rooms!


Some events need not be competitive, particularly some of the creative activities and some laughter based games.  And poems, cartoons etc could be displayed for everyone to see.


Heats to be held in a ‘round robin’ format, so that there are people selected for the finals, but everyone else is equal second.


Suggestions here are for events involving Gibberish, Drawing, Mime, Improvisation, song, poetry writing and Laughing.  Actual activities may depend on the skills of supervisors and leaders at the Laughter Olympics.  (In the Laughter Network we have people who can lead improvisations, therapeutic clowning, poetry creation, laughter, and gibberish). 


Competitions could include some of these:


o    Best Gibberish (heats if many competitors)

§  Best translation of gibberish into English

§  Best gibberish debate


o   Visual  creativity (break out room, ongoing activity)

§  Speed Cartoon Drawing

§  Best photo of a laugh


o   Funniest poem (break out room, ongoing activity)

§  Funniest using specified selected words

§  Funniest semi free-form

§  Funniest Haiku on a specified theme


o   Mime and/or  Improvisation  and/or Therapeutic Clowning and/or song  and/or other performance (heats if many competitors, break out room, ongoing activity)

§  Funniest  on a given situation

§  Semi free-form

§  Funniest advert on a theme


o   Laughter – Durational (break out room, ongoing)

§  Who can laugh longest

§  Not laugh at all and try to make them laugh

§  The longest silent laugh with no sound

§  Longest sustained laughter while skipping, jumping or some other activity.


o   Laughter

§  Funniest Laugh (single and team competition)

§  Sprint to real laughter

§  Funniest laugh while doing something else as well


Closing ceremony:  16.30

-         A professional  show act – e.g. Mime/Music/Ballet/Clowning/Circus, the more International the better

-        Closing remarks

-        A final facilitated laugh to mark the end.


End: 17.00


Maybe adjourn (today and/or on day 2) for

-        Movie Show “The General” by Buster Keaton,  accompanied by live music from a piano/synthesizer player; or another fairly universally funny film


-        Gala evening show with professional participants. And hopefully a group of non-professionals (Old – and Young) who trained  for several months before to present an act at the Laughter Olympics




1.       A second day with training from one or more of:

a.       Dr Madan Kataria (Laughter Yoga)

b.      World Laughter Master Belachew Girma (Laughter Therapy in Ethiopia)

c.       Alex Sternick (Gibberish)

d.      Dr Annette Goodheart (Laughter Coaching)

Dr Kataria would take about 3 hours, and would attract laughter professionals from Europe.

It would be wonderful to have two speakers each taking 3 hours.


2.       Filming (video and still) on the day to create a record


3.       Hand over the Laughter Olympic torch – to Laughter Network, or to Dr Kataria, or to another place/organization so that it continues.  Dr Kataria has already expressed an interest in it.



Short presentation topics:

        - Laughter Yoga
        - Laughter Coaching
        - The benefits of Laughter
        - How to add more Humor to your (professional) life
        - The Olympic Art of Making Mistakes, an historic review
        -  Health and Humor through the Arts for Seniors

     - Laughter Free Zone with deck chairs – controlled by the Laughter Police
       to relax and recharge your batteries






William Fry researched humour, the physiological changes during laughter, its benefits for good health including good mental health and as an alternative way of dealing with stress, instead for example of turning to violence.  (1970s-1990s)

Fry W. The respiratory components of mirthful laughter J Biol Psychol 1977; 19: 39–50

Fry W. Humor, physiology, and the aging process.  In Nahemov L, McCluskey-Fawcett K, McGhee P (Eds.). Humor and Aging 1986;Orlando, Florida Academic Press pp. 81–98

Fry W and Savin W. Mirthful laughter and blood pressure.  Int J Humor Res 1988; 1: 49–62

Fry W. The physiological effects of humor, mirth, and laughter. J Am Med Assoc 1992; 267: 1857–8

Fry W. The biology of humor.  Int J Humor Res 1994; 7: 111–26


Lee Berk shows that the immune system is boosted by laughter and even just the anticipation of laughter releases endorphins. It also decreases stress hormone (cortisol) levels. (1980s-1990s onwards)

Berk L, Tan S, Nehlsen-Cannarella S, Napier B, Lewis J, Lee J, et al. Humor associated laughter decreases cortisol and increases spontaneous lymphocyte blastogenesis Clin Res 1988; 36: 435A

Berk L, Tan S, Napier B, Evy W. Eustress of mirthful laughter modifies natural killer cell activity Clin Res 1989; 37: 115A

Berk L, Tan S, Fry W, Napier B, Lee J, Hubbard R, et al. Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter Am J Med Sci 1989; 298: 391–6

Berk L, Tan S, Fry W. Eustress of Humor associated laughter modulates specific immune system components . Annals of Behavioral Medicine Supplement, Proceedings of the Society of Behavioral Medicine's 16th Annual Scientific Sessions 1993; 15: pp. S111

Berk L and Tan S. Eustress of mirthful laughter modulates the immune system lmyphokine interferon-gama.  Annals of Behavioral Medicine Supplement, Proceedings of the Society of Behavioral Medicine's 16th Annual Scientific Sessions 1995; 17: pp. C064


BBC, Laughter ‘boosts blood vessels’, retrieved 5th October 2009 (Dr Michael Miller) from

 Physorg, Just the expectation of a mirthful laughter experience boosts endorphins 27percent,HGH 87 percent, retrieved 5th October 2009 (Dr Lee Berk) from

BBC, 'Therapeutic clowning' boosts IVF, retrieved 5th October 2009 from : “Just over a third of women entertained by a clown conceived, compared to 19% of a group who were not “



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NHE Magazine article, October 2009

The best medicine


Spontaneous laughter is a mood altering substance which is generally free, legal and with no harmful side effects, says Robin Graham


Across the world, laughter therapists and laughter club leaders use playfulness and laughing to empower, to combat depression and isolation and to instil positive emotions.  This is because laughter brings about physiological changes which help us in our lives.


As a coping mechanism, laughter is our body’s way of being healthier, happier and less stressed.   We start to laugh when we are a few weeks old.  As babies, we don’t get the joke; we just laugh, maybe hundreds of times a day. We play and learn.


Then as teenagers, working out our identity and how we belong in society, we may stop laughing freely, think that it is being strong to hide our positive emotions, not realising that actually it takes emotional strength to express them.


And then, as adults, we may still inhibit ourselves from laughing, even though it is part of our natural behaviour. 


It is a language and it does not always mean happiness. The trigger for it may be a thought, experience, observation, feeling or situation.  In a serious meeting, or with unexpected news that we don’t know how to react to, or with flatulence at a funeral, if the tension gets too great it may be released through laughter. 



Therapeutic laughter


In the UK, therapeutic work with laughter was developed in the 1990s by Dr Robert Holden.  He established The Happiness Project and the first ever NHS laughter clinic in Great Britain.  Across the world, the social laughter club movement started by Dr Madan Kataria, a GP from Mumbai, has now spread to 60 countries. It embraces the principle that when our body laughs, even if we are just pretending, we still bring about physiological changes. 


Dr Annette Goodheart developed laughter coaching and has been involved in therapeutic laughter for 40 years. She listens for laughter as someone speaks because it indicates a subtext to what they are saying and then works with that laughter to release tensions.


She explains that spontaneous laughter, from the body, is associated with anger or fear or boredom so can used therapeutically.  But sometimes laughter is from the mind, involving taunting, teasing, ridicule and bullying where neither the person laughing nor the person being ridiculed benefit from this laughter and it is isolating and divisive.  


When we understand laughter, we can make changes to the way we behave and respond to other people.  For example, rather than laughing at other people, we can choose to find humour in our own lives, share it and in this way we laugh together, making our work and home environments happier places to be in.


Laughter in healthcare


Laughter boosts the immune system so helps reduce sickness. It reduces the levels of stress hormones so helps people manage their lives more effectively and healthily and encourages and enables creativity and clear thinking. It releases endorphins so increases morale as we feel good. 


It gives us a physical workout, massages the internal organs, clears out the lungs, and increases energy.


Through mirror neurons and brain activity, it strengthens social skills and helps community building.  It is a social language in itself, so understanding it and using it helps us to communicate and to deal with difficult and tough situations.


In 2004, we set up the UK Laughter Network to bring together people who use laughter therapeutically.  In 2008, we set up the World Laughter Pledge, which invites people to laugh every morning, alone or with others, as part of a wave of laughter around the world.



Using laughter


After running laughter training at a GPs surgery, I gave everyone an item with a smiley face on it.  A few weeks later a doctor wrote to me: “I have my little smiley ball hanging near my exam couch. It came into its own with a very anxious child the other day. 


Unfortunately she needed to have an unpleasant procedure done... Her dad was there and we were trying to reassure her. 


Then I ‘pinged’ the smiley man at her and she giggled and we were able to proceed in a quite different way. We got the exam done but also she started making jokes about some other things too.”


Laughter is a communications tool, for patients, staff, families and friends.  It is also a mechanism for managing stress. If we laugh at a problem it will not make that problem go away but as our stress hormones decrease, we can think more clearly and make better decisions about how to manage the situation.


By laughing regularly in our lives, we get a sense of joyfulness and an awareness of being in the moment where small irritations become of less importance. But if we inhibit our own laughter or prohibit it in others, it is like a pressure cooker.  It contributes to a build up of stress and stress related illnesses, lack of happiness, and resentment.  Without laughter, we invite illness on ourselves. 



Laughter on prescription


We ran six weekly laughter sessions for a group of ten women at a Sure Start in Lancashire.  They had all been referred by an internal Sure Start referral or from a health visitor. The common factor in all the women and criteria for signing up for the course was that they experienced depression, stress or anxiety and this impacted on the quality of their family life.  From the initial ten, seven went on to complete the course. Interviews were conducted before and after the six weeks.


After the second session, the women talked about how they stopped shouting at their children as much and found other ways of responding to difficult situations.  The laughter effects were cumulative.  After the sixth session, all the women were looking at enrolling on more training and education or going back to work.


For one of the participants, her experience of stress before the course was recorded as “panic attacks, tearful and emotional, shout at the children, feel guilty, lack of motivation to go out of the house”.  At the end of the course she said: “I do laughing exercises with the children and it controls my anger. My older child has said that I now don’t shout, swear and smack them as much. I feel more in control.”


From another, before the course: “Usually I lose the plot. Escape from the kids, try to get distance from the situation.  Sometimes I resort to vodka. Sometimes I try talking to my partner. On medication.”


And after the course: “There is still a lot of stress. Stepping back from the situation makes me feel calmer. Would have shouted and screamed before the course but will laugh when finding older son difficult. That stops me from shouting. It’s not a magic wand but gives the tools to cope with things.”


By thinking about laughter we can start to smile and that brings us benefits. Therapeutic laughter can be embraced by the health service for mental and physical wellbeing, promoting health, happiness and management of stress.  Laughter is infectious and incurable yet known as the best medicine.


We have the choice whether to engage appropriately with more laughter. Do you have too much laughter in your life?  Would you like some more?


Robin Graham is co-founder and trustee of the UK Laughter Network and founder of the World Laughter Pledge ( ).