I’m inspired by a baby who infected my mind space on a long-haul flight recently. As we all tried to find the patience to wait through an extended delay, buckled-in and caught up in inconvenience and worry, we tensed at the squawk that let us know that a baby a couple of rows back had woken up.
I sat in dread, sure a delay coupled with a crying baby might just push me over the edge.
When all of a sudden … a pixie giggle.
You know that sound, clear as a bell. It perked my ears and I waited…it came again, and then a third time, gaining energy, heightening until it turned into an all-in-belly-laugh-squeal in the way that only babies can do. Despite myself, tired and weary, I started to smile. Then I found myself giggling, and finally, I could not contain the laugh that flew out of me as I experienced her glee. Soon, all 10 rows of travellers were chuckling to ourselves. I guess the flight eventually took off, unnoticed - I had forgotten the plague of whatever had been worrying me.
It made me wonder two things, first, why don’t airlines play videos of laughing babies as a part of their safety briefing and why, given how good it feels, do we not laugh together more often? Isn’t it strange that we will often approach one another with stories of woes or political gripes that make us feel frustration and anger, but rarely with those things that make us tingle with mirth?
So I decided to go out on a limb and try a bold experiment… to take the lead of this little soul and intentionally infect strangers with a little effervescent joy.
I stopped in a nail salon and decided this would be the place of my first attempt…
There are about 15 of us in the room, we sit neatly in two rows, facing each other with our feet and toes exposed. There is an unwritten code when you are getting your nails done, no talking, no eye contact and maintain composure (despite the fact that I don’t know a human alive who doesn’t have ticklish feet). Left to free expression we would squirm, wiggle, giggle and laugh… but here we do none of that, we just keep it in.
So when Nancy starts to massage my foot by placing her fingers between my toes I gather my courage, go against the rules and let out a little giggle, (everyone’s eyes get a little bigger but they don’t look at me)
and then I chuckle,
(my sister shoots me a look, raises an eyebrow)
and then I let go and laugh and feel my own mirth - which has the consequence of making me laugh even louder,
(because now I can see myself in my mind's eye, sitting in a church-quiet salon, having a good old laugh while everyone else is trying to control themselves and quickly adjust to the look of shock that has crept onto their faces and, of course, this just makes me laugh even harder…
And that’s when I get them.
Nancy stops and looks at me straight in the eyes and laughs.
Perhaps this is the first time today she has felt truly engaged with the people she cares for so well. Her colleagues all stop what they are doing, little brushes of colour all held mid-air as they vibrate in their shared humour.
Once I see them laughing I am GONE!
Now I have tears rolling down my cheeks.
I notice the ladies, in the row opposite me are all smiling, grinning, giggling despite themselves. (Success!)
BETTER THAN A ROUND OF MARTINIS.
Joy is a contagion.
For a moment I felt like I have cured all that weighs so heavily on us.
I can’t change the world but I can make it a little lighter.
I’ve now repeated this experiment in a few places – a random giggle bomb that infuses the space with people who can’t help but smile – on a plane, in a coffee shop, and in a voice mail that my friend has saved as her favourite pick me up on those especially dire days.
Yes, it’s strange how at first this laughing feels so vulnerable. I really feared people looking at me like I was bonkers. But now I know that at the end of it someone will come over and say “thanks – I needed that”.
How will you go out and share your delight? Next time you are wishing you could change the world, let the sound of your laughter emerge. Be caught smiling, giggling, singing. Demonstrate joy. I’ll be there laughing along with you.
Laugh Out Loud,