Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Baby Nuthouse: a laughing matter

You may have heard the oft-quoted but unsubstantiated claim that children laugh approximately 400 times a day while adults laugh only 25 times.

I happen to spend a lot of time around children, and I’m not going to disagree that children laugh more than adults. But, have you ever noticed how often they cry?

Besides, if you actually take a close look at a child’s daily laughing occurrences, you will see that it breaks down something like this:

25 laughs: incidents that might make an adult laugh
Good jokes (the first time around). Humorous phrases invented by his two-year-old sister. The sheer joy of a game of chase on a beautiful day.

250 laughs: repetitive childish humor
The same jokes that were funny the first time around, repeated 50 times. Games such as peek-a-boo, repeated 100 times. Phrases such as “pooh-pooh head,” repeated until an adult intervenes.

50 laughs: pure slapstick
You trip over the dog while holding a plate of food. You step on a Lego in your bare feet. The refrigerator door slams on your head. Your toddler pokes you in the eye.

75 laughs: incidents that might make an adult weep
Pouring sand on each other’s heads. Splattering paint on the walls. Smashing play-doh into the carpet.

Clip and save that list for the next person who sends you a perky e-mail telling you how inferior we are to children in the humor department. People who quote the 400-times-a day statistic act as though children’s emotional states are something to be emulated. Those of us currently living with children know this is not the case.

Kids laugh a lot, and cry a lot, because they are a bundle of raw emotions. This can be refreshing at times. A child might break into a song and dance routine simply because you are serving ice cream for dessert. A toddler’s uninhibited giggling can last as long as you wish, if you keep making silly faces. (Just keep your distance or she might poke you in the eye.)

On the flip side, it’s no laughing matter when a three-year-old throws a monster tantrum in the middle of a shopping mall. Or when a five-year-old swings from depressed to ecstatic to calm to enraged all in the course of two minutes. If we were all truly childlike, wearing our emotions on our snot-covered sleeves, this world would certainly be a different place, but would it really be an improvement?

Research does indicate that we’d all be happier and healthier if we laughed more often. Grownups, however, would probably be better off pursuing more sophisticated sources of humor, since most of us don’t find the phrase “pooh-pooh head” very amusing, and it might be a few years before we can laugh about that play-doh in the carpet.

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