Laugh on the other side of your face

English: Watching a comedic television show he...

Watching a comedic television show helps provoke laughter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Laughter’s good for you. We know this. It causes all sorts of healthy jiggling about of organs and ions and lively goings on inside you. It puts you in touch with yourself… in fact it does much the same as a vigorous massage. It connects you with yourself, and with the wider world.

You can’t be afraid when you’re laughing, you can’t be angry, you can’t move much, you can’t even talk properly. You can’t feel lonely if you’re laughing. It’s a Very Good Thing. You feel full of life

I mean proper laughter, not nervous laughter or tormentor’s laughter, which come from somewhere different in your psyche. I’m talking about the helpless, spontaneous, happy laughter that surprises and captures us.

Do you know… laughter is universal in humans, and in many mammals (probably all mammals, if we knew how they all laughed). We know how dogs laugh, and how rats laugh, and how chimps laugh.  It’s a social glue, it’s reassuring, and appeasing, and bonding, and is about more than responding to something funny. Laughter is infectious – can you hear someone laughing helplessly without joining in?

Laughter by tickling

Laughter by tickling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We laugh 30 times more often in company than when we’re alone. That’s why so many TV and radio comedy shows use a laughter track, to encourage us all to laugh together. We might find something funny if we’re on our own, and maybe it makes us smile, but it’s relatively rare to laugh out loud.

When was the last time you laughed until your ribs hurt? It’s SO good for us to laugh like that, that if someone hasn’t produced a laughter app, they should do. You should. We should. Anyone know about producing apps?

So if you haven’t laughed for a while, catch the bug from YouTube or Vimeo; go to a free BBC comedy recording; go to a comedy club, or best of all, go to a laughter club or workshop. Lie about with a bunch of people and laugh yourself to a jelly for no reason whatsoever. You feel fantastic afterwards!


Intimacy – we all want it, but can you define it?

“Intimacy is the opposite of loneliness, I get that. But that takes me only halfway to enlightenment. The trouble is, I can’t put my finger on what intimacy is. It’s one of those words that I understand on a cellular level, but struggle to define.”

Close and loving, mother and son, intimate

Mother and child have the most intimate relationship of all – for the first nine months of life, at the least

Sophia Dembling writes in online mag Psych Central about intimacy, trying to find the intangible something in its definition.

Merriam-Webster online defines intimacy as the state of being intimate, and defines the intimate as:

1 a : intrinsic, essential

b : belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature

2 : marked by very close association, contact, or familiarity <intimate knowledge of the law>

3 a : marked by a warm friendship developing through long association <intimate friends>

b : suggesting informal warmth or privacy <intimate clubs>

4 : of a very personal or private nature <intimate secrets>

Sophia concludes with this paragraph:

“Intimacy requires more but I’m not sure what. I’m not even sure exactly what it is, except that I know it when I feel it.

Her feeling is spot on. She has touched on it several times in her article, which Merriam-Webster fails to do.

Go to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and you find the clue. Intimacy’s derivation is the latin phrase tunica intima, the under-tunic, the garment worn next to the skin. The OED goes on to define intimacy and intimate using words like deep, close, connection.

The intangible extra that you’re missing, Sophia, is actually the tangible element. Touch, contact, connection. If you only put your physical finger on it, you’ll have put your metaphorical finger on it.

The fundamental factor in intimacy is being next to the skin – inside the social barrier we all keep around us for all but our intimate friends and family.

Everyone needs their own space, and everyone unconsciously sets their own rules for distance. Think of meeting someone for the first time – you probably stand at handshaking distance. Once you know them better, begin to trust them, maybe find them attractive, you may be within arm’s length, but only when you really trust them, like them and are attracted to them (not just sexually), do you let them get close – perhaps within hugging distance. That’s intimacy.

Intimacy is feeling comfortable body-to-body, and even skin to skin. It’s not just a sexual thing. It’s a parent holding their baby in their arms; girlfriends sitting next to each other, touching at shoulder, hip and knee. It’s lovers, arms entwined and holding hands; it’s child cuddled by grandparent… It’s an unconscious state of trust and affection – you don’t think about it, you’re just there, in touch and connected.

So, Sophia, I hope this makes sense to you and fills the gap in your definition. Stay in touch.



Such a simple remedy for loneliness

Emma, young woman who trained in massage with me, went to an old people’s home to do some simple massage with the residents. She told us that she was massaging an elderly woman’s hands and suddenly the old lady’s eyes filled with tears. Emma asked her what was wrong, and the reply was: “This is the first time I’ve been touched since my husband died, 20 years ago.”

She discounted the touch of her professional carers because the touch was impersonal and a matter of logistics. Emma’s simple hand massage was intensely personal, with a focused, kind intention behind the touch. The old lady instinctively knew the difference even if she couldn’t explain it.

Two decades without simple, kindly touch. Think about it.

How easy to remedy.

A touching remedy for the lonely

It’s clear enough that the sense of touch is important for babies – lots of people learn baby massage, and the sling is back in fashion so that infants are carried next to their parent’s body rather than at arm’s length in a pushchair.

But don’t we grow out of the need for touch?

Well… have you?

Children get as much touch as they like from their pets

Kittens never reject affection and are perfect for touch-deprived humans

I haven’t. I learned as a small child not to expect touch, and then to do without it. I had pets instead – dogs and cats, who adored being stroked and patted and weren’t ashamed to ask for strokes. Am I alone in relying on pets for innocent physical affection? Did anyone else experience this? Is this why Anglo-Saxons love their pets so much?

[Oh.. I’ve just remembered that psychologists in the 1960s – Eric Berne and then Thomas Harris – used the word ‘stroke’ to mean the emotional equivalent of a physical stroke: a compliment, praise, an endorsement, an award. Something that makes you want to purr. A feel-good moment. Imagine a cat stretching and purring under a stroking human hand…]

Touch is the first sense to develop in the human foetus. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and develops from the same stem cells as the brain. Frequent pleasurable touch for infants results in positive change in brain tissue, while chronic touch deprivation or trauma results in measurable brain damage. Lots of scientific studies have shown the critical importance of good touch to the developing infant and the growing child. It remains vital – touch-deprived adults may turn to food, alcohol or drugs to make up for the lack of physical contact, or adopt behaviours from promiscuous sex to shop lifting.

Think about your skin. There’s a lot of it, and it’s far more than a barrier between you and the outside world. it’s in organ, like your heart or your lungs, and in it are thousands of nerve endings which pick up a mass of information that help us operate and survive, give us pain or pleasure, and a whole spectrum of subtle emotions and reactions that we don’t consciously notice.

Think of losing all that information because you don’t get touched. For the elderly, who are the focus of current campaigns, loneliness is often the result of losing a spouse, family moving away, friends becoming housebound or dying… that’s bad enough and can be devastating. But imagine how appalling it must be to live your whole life, from childhood onwards, feeling out of touch, not connected, lost and alienated in a crowded world, because you didn’t get the touch your body and brain needed in your early years.

What about young adults who leave home to go to university or to a job in another city; dealing with a whole new world with only strangers around you, with none of the contact and support of home and friends…

And so on through life. Being deprived of touch is one of the key causes of loneliness, and getting touch is one of the key remedies.

Related articles

Keep in touch, make contact, only connect

A proper hug, with a simple, kind, loving intention, is the best prevention for loneliness

The best medicine

We use these words as metaphor. We don’t actually mean touch each other when we say ‘keep in touch’; we don’t mean touching someone when we make contact with them… EM Forster’s epigram “only connect” was his suggesting nothing more than a cerebral connection: no actual touching, thanks.

And that’s where we’ve gone wrong.

Cats have no hang-ups about being in touch

Cats need no excuse to cuddle up together

This is the first of a series of posts about touch, connection, contact, being hands-on. Touch is one of the three keys to curing loneliness – and for that matter, solving many of our human ills and failings.

Gerry Pyves, who trained me in bodywork techniques (aka massage), told us on our first session that he strongly believed that if everyone had one hour of massage every week, the NHS would be redundant. It sounded pretty outrageous at the time, but as I learned and observed and listened and read and experienced, I became convinced that he was right.

Massage – expert, intuitive, safe bodywork – does far more than make you feel relaxed, or smoothing out knots in muscles. It affects your mind as much as your body, and long-term can bring about radical changes that would amaze anyone who isn’t in the know.

More than massage, touch is the most neglected and misunderstood of our five senses, but one of the most important. Touch is critical in the very early stages of life, and probably the last sense we relinquish when we die.

But the matter of touch, or the lack of it, never comes up in discussions about loneliness. I’ve been monitoring this for 18 months – I have a Google alert for the word ‘loneliness’ and must have read hundreds of articles, blog posts, papers and studies about the subject. The only time the importance of touch has been implied was in short articles about someone inventing gadgets to hug you – most recently a vest which will ‘hug’ you when your beloved is away. But these are mechanical solutions, which don’t provide the living energy we need.

There is more than enough evidence – despite the lack of research into the sense of touch in mammals, let alone humans – to show that a key cause of loneliness is the lack of touch, and not just the lack of social activity. The sad irony is that the simplest of touches  – putting your hand on someone else’s shoulder, arm, hand – is the most effective way of dismissing loneliness. It needs no words, no explanation, no expertise – only a kindly intention. It’s not dangerous or expensive; it’s free, simple, and universal.

Three ways to keep loneliness from the door

In the middle of a long post on her blog 1000 single days, Vanessa has this to say about loneliness, and why is hasn’t hit her so far.

“The reason that I believe I have not experienced loneliness thus far can be put down to a few things. Firstly, I am too fricken busy for loneliness right now. When you raise 2 young boys and a teenage girl on your own while studying a full time degree and writing a blog, while working out like crazy every day due to ‘Operation Banging Body’, when you get a knock at the door, and you open it, and there is loneliness standing there with his bags packed, ready to move in, you just have to shrug your shoulders, apologize, explain there is simply no room, and close the door.

Secondly, I have said it before, but my friends and my family. I really do believe that I may just have the most incredible network of friends, and a more remarkable family than anyone could hope for. They all support me in this crazy thing I am doing of course, and just as I would never have begun writing if not for them, nor had the courage to begin this journey, I would not have the strength to finish it if they were not such a huge part of my life. I am often told by my nearest and dearest, that they are noticing I am changing. I am becoming strong. That I seem more at peace. That there is not only a happiness in my face, but a joy coming from inside me somewhere.
When you receive feedback like that from people you know tell it like it is, it is a huge deal. I have spent the last few years being told ‘Whats happening to you Ness, you’re changing…. you seem so sad.’ One friend told me not too long ago that my eyes didn’t have any life in them anymore. How hard is it to hear things like that? Its devastating. How is it to hear that they believe you are coming back to life? Rising up from a close call, a near death experience? Its wonderful, and I need to hear it.

Finally, just as getting to know a person who you have just met, inside out may take a lifetime, getting to know who I am, especially after neglecting to do so up until this point means I have a lot of catching up to do, and loneliness will not translate from a mere word into an experience for as long as I am making an acquaintance with myself. I have begun by learning the real ABCs of Vanessa. For the first time in my life, I actually have a favorite colour (Hot Pink) and I have finally come out of the musical closet and embraced the fact I love filthy rap music, (my itunes is sounding a lot more ‘gansta’ these days) And the whole ‘Banging body’ thing came about because I had enough time to think and realise that I am honestly just a much happier person when I am thin and after a few years of trying to jump on the whole ‘love your post-baby body’ bandwagon, I have just had to throw my hands up in the air and say ‘you know what, I hated my post-baby body. I want a banging body, and despite all the bumper stickers that tell me I should feel beautiful no matter how fat my arse is, I want to be thin’ And that is a bit of a big deal to admit, because people hate it when other people say things like that, but after getting acquainted with myself, I realised that was where my happy place was, and just accepted it.”   Read the rest here