Man’s Best Friend (An Essay about Laughter)

23 Dec


Published in the Ink Filled Page. 
Still available for publication. 
Contact me for an original file. 
Big Head River
It’s ok boy. Being man’s SECOND best friend isn’t so bad

Despite what you may have heard, man’s best friend is not a dog. Man’s best friend is laughter. Laughter doesn’t need to go for walks, it doesn’t need expensive vaccinations and it won’t get you in trouble for choking a neighbor’s sheep (I speak from experience here). Think about it: how many times has a laugh-free first date gotten you a goodnight kiss?  Giggling, chuckling, bellowing, cackling–they all come from the same place. And they’re all really useful, too. I’ve used laughter all my life, in different situations all around the world.

I was an extremely scatterbrained kid, always doing things like leaving my homework on top of the car.  On “Career Day” in middle school, after tagging along with my dad for the day, I remember hearing a heavy “clunk” just as he accelerated onto the highway.  My dad jumped at the noise, “What was that?” he asked. I leaned towards the side mirror and smirked: my notes for the day were scattered to the winds, dispersed across four lanes of rush-hour traffic. I can still hear my mom’s voice, ringing in my ears, after I pulled some boneheaded act or another: “Oh, Ryan!” What are we going to do with you?”  So famous were my exploits that now, when one of my parents or my sister, say, programs the wrong address into a GPS and drives fifty miles in the wrong direction, they’ll say that they pulled a “Ryan.”

You might think this would give me a complex, but I don’t take offense because I’ve discovered that mistakes go down easier with laughter.  That’s not to say I ignore my errors; I hang my head, call myself an idiot, and I dig deep to avoid making the same mistake, but I do all the aforementioned after I laugh at myself.  So laugh at yourself, lighten things up, and pat yourself on the back before you kick yourself in the ass.

Laughter helps you cope during uncertain times, too—like when you’re traveling through faraway countries during a revolution, for instance.  When my wife Lori and I were on a two-week trek through Nepal in 2005, a nationwide strike brought the country to a standstill.  The king had dissolved Nepal’s parliament earlier that year and the “people,” as they say, were angry; they wanted democracy restored. Arriving at the small village that marked the end of our trek, we were greeted by burning tires and protests, a marked difference from the peaceful, self-sufficient villages where we had spent the past weeks. The busses—our rides back to Kathmandu–sat idle. Nobody would risk driving back amid this turmoil.
Later, our guide informed us in his broken English, “Ok—No bus. Maybe truck will come morning or maybe we walk. Ok?”
Ok? A truck? What kind of truck? Walk? Isn’t Kathmandu seventy miles away?

We left the next day, and I cackled madly as we rumbled past burning cars, angry demonstrators and marching troops. Not because anything was funny, really, but because it was the only thing I could do. A nationwide all-hours curfew was in effect but tourists were allowed to move around the country.  Our ride, a broken-down stock truck, donned a hand-lettered cardboard sign reading “Tourist Bus.”  The truck stalled often but it was easy to restart.  German, Israeli, American and Nepali hands lined up to push.  Initial grunts started the truck moving, multilingual expletives kept it moving, and a roaring group-laugh facilitated the final heave. As black smoke spewed from the exhaust, we laughed and climbed back onto the truck for another few miles before repeating the process.

Lori overseeing Operation Tourist Bus

Laughter has its place even in the loss of friends and family.  My brother died when I was seventeen years old, and although I didn’t laugh at his bedside or at his funeral, I still laugh every time I think of the Bubble Episode. I can picture it perfectly: my family cruising through the white-capped mountains of Colorado for the first time, my sister, brother and I stuffed in the backseat. As we crested a steep mountain pass, my brother’s kid-face began to disappear behind a growing bubble-gum bubble. Somehow, that bubble kept growing, eclipsing his entire face, and our hysterics grew with it, filling the car with peals of laughter. The death of loved ones hurts so much because of the laughter you shared with them.  Laughter never dies.

Although laughter technically doesn’t have mass, it holds and comforts you, keeps you company when you’re lonely. How many times have you found yourself alone at home, in a hotel room, in the car, or feeling transparent in a crowded elevator?  Your heart is heavy, down in your stomach instead of in your chest, but then a soft chortle or a hearty chuckle saves you. At home your cat rounds the corner chasing ghosts, in the hotel room you bust out dancing in your underwear, in the car you belt out cheesy love songs at the top of your lungs, and in the elevator you notice a man in a very expensive suit with more nose hairs on the outside of his nose than inside. Suddenly, because of your laughter, you feel whole again, and happy to be alive. This resonance not only feels good—it is good. A Google search of “laughter is good for you” turned up almost five million hits.  Studies by real doctors, ones with the debt and the white overcoats to prove it, have found that laughter has many benefits. It boosts the immune system, reduces stress by releasing endorphins, prevents heart disease, and burns calories.  One study showed that people with heart disease responded with less humor to everyday life situations and displayed more anger and hostility than their healthier peers did.  (Instead of prescribing the latest and greatest pills, maybe doctors should direct their high-risk patients to make a funny face in the mirror three times a day.)  Another study showed up to forty calories burned for every fifteen minutes of laughing.  Not much, but it’s something to consider: a jolly night with good friends offsets that extra side of bacon the next morning. Or if you prefer longer horizons, that equals four pounds a year or, cumulatively, a dozen buckets of ice cream in a lifetime. Who wouldn’t want to keep off forty-pounds per decade just by laughing?

So with all that said, here’s an alternative definition of laughter, one you won’t find in a dictionary: a highly combustible accelerant for all social bonds. It has many uses, it never dies, it’s good for you, and best of all—it’s free.


* * *

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARyan Chin is the author of Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows, a multimedia memoir about his teaching experience in New Zealand. He likes to call it a pet and teacher memoir sandwiched into an overseas adventure. The book is available at Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and locally at Powell’s Books. He keeps a stack on his dashboard for random giveaways so if you see a Chinese guy driving a big white van, throw a piece of fruit (preferably something soft like a banana) at his windshield; he might stop and give you a book. In between standing at the kitchen sink, changing diapers and napping with ear plugs, he can be found writing in his garage. In between all that stuff, he swings a hammer as a licensed remodel contractor (Gin Fu’s Home Improvement LLC). Give him a shout if you need some windows. And in between all the above, he helps Lori operate a preschool out of their newly remodeled basement (Little Green School House).


12 Responses to “Man’s Best Friend (An Essay about Laughter)”

  1. samantha waltz August 21, 2009 at 2:33 pm #

    Ryan, this is fabulous. Some bits I have to post around my office to remind me how to live. Just fabulous.

  2. kory beavers September 4, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    Very cool…I always say you can either laugh or cry, and I choose to laugh

  3. Molly September 19, 2009 at 5:49 pm #

    This is great Ryan, it made me laugh to re-live you leaving the rings at the wedding. Also, I love all of your insights in your writing about laughter. It’s true, a tough situation can be made so much better… even hilarious, by just laughing. I could really picture in my mind all those people pushing that “tourist bus” and just laughing, because what else was there left to do? It’s a great reminder of how to live life. Thanks!

  4. Auntie Alice September 22, 2009 at 9:44 am #

    Fabulous creativity and insight, Ryan.

  5. Pete October 24, 2009 at 7:03 pm #

    Love it! What a wonderful philosophy to live by. I forget where this comes from, but I wrote down a quote by Max Eastman: “It is the ability to take a joke, not make one, that proves you have a sense of humor.” Beautiful wedding, by the way!

  6. Michael, Hallie, Jonah, Mae October 31, 2009 at 2:15 pm #

    This is explains the maniacal laughter I have heard escaping your mouth in times that others might decide to cry or fume. Great Writing. Almost reminds me a bit of Zenhabits.

  7. Murph January 15, 2010 at 11:18 pm #

    Very enjoyable and very true!

  8. Harry Hitzeman January 16, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    Great stuff Ryan. You’ve always had a great smile and an easy feel about you, easy to be around. Laugh and keep writing!

  9. Chris Hatting January 19, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    Ryan, great insight and a wonderful read. You really bring the reader into your world.

  10. Jennifer February 11, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    Fabulous! The magic of laughter – thanks for the important reminder and sharing your great writing abilities! Loved to wedding video too!

  11. Kay May 18, 2010 at 11:20 pm #

    Ah, I loved this!! I, too, was totally the scatterbrained kid. Except I left big bags full of ice on top of the car as my family and I drove away. Luckily, the ice was heavy and didn’t slide off. That made it even funnier in a way. Lot’s of laughs at the expense of my air-headedness. 🙂


  1. Forget It « The Chin Project - June 5, 2010

    […] is an nice twin to my essay about laughter. If you enjoyed reading this piece then hop on over to Man’s Best Friend.  Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)do it.Because of YouBefore their […]

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