“I just can’t take any more close-ups of blood dripping on snow,” I told Rich recently. At home or on the road, we love spending lazy evenings watching mysteries and thrillers, matching wits with unorthodox but brilliant detectives and the ruthless master criminals they’re hunting down. But after a glut of bleak Scandinavian suspense dramas and brutal American police procedurals, I needed more lighthearted fare. A glance at the current comedy listings seemed even more demoralizing than the gritty crime shows: Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Magic Mike XXL, yet another SpongeBob sequel…
“We need some classic comedy,” I decided. “The kind that really knows how to make ‘em laugh.”
I placed our big green bowl in the middle of the dining room table. “We can call it The Laugher Project,” I said, rummaging around the kitchen for PostIt notes and pens. “We’ll each write the names of favorite funny films, and when we need something cheerful, we’ll pick one at random and watch it.”
“I’ve got one!” Rich exclaimed. “Remember that scene—”
“Wait! Don’t tell me which ones you’re putting in,” I said. “Write on the back side of the PostIt note, so we can seal it shut with the sticky part. It’ll be like a secret ballot.” A flutter of folded yellow slips began hitting the bowl.
A few days later, friends arriving for dinner wondered aloud about our unusual centerpiece, and we told them about The Laughter Project. At first they seemed to think the whole exercise was distinctly odd and completely pointless. But by the second glass of wine, they were roaring as they recalled cherished movie memories, and pretty soon they were reaching for the PostIt pad and demanding more pens.
By the third glass of wine, they were scrawling madly on the non-sticky side of the PostIts, crumpling them up, and flinging them into the bowl.
“Those are the ones I want to start with,” I told Rich later.
“You think we’re going to be able to read their handwriting?” he said doubtfully.
Since then, many friends have contributed to The Laughter Project (and I hope you will, too). As the collection grows, it’s comforting to know that with today’s technology, we can dip into it wherever we are in the world. YouTube and public libraries offer free streaming, and for modest fees you can watch films on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and other sites. Although a few countries such as Cuba still have pretty shaky wifi outside of the larger hotels, most places – the Bulgarian mountain hostel we stayed in a few years ago, for instance – offer surprisingly good Internet connection.
And if you think entertainment is all you’re getting from these movies, think again. Chuckles, chortles, giggles, and guffaws can relax your whole body for up to 45 minutes, boost your immune system, release endorphins that enhance well-being and reduce pain, and improve blood circulation in ways that benefit your heart. And that’s no joke.
Laughter offers us a vacation from ourselves. It lifts us up out of our ordinary lives and enables us to forget everything but the joy of being in this moment, right now, doing precisely this. Science tells us we cannot feel anxious, angry, or depressed when we laugh; instead we relax, recharge, and tend to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. According to a Japanese proverb, "Time spent laughing is time spent with the gods." And Woody Allen sums it up thus: “I am grateful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.”
What movies have tickled your funny bone? I’m still collecting the names of films to add to The Laughter Project, and I’d love to include your favorites!
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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