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Provine is dubious about health claims for laughter and suggests that perhaps it's not the act of laughing that makes us better but the situations in which the laughter occurs. "If you're laughing in the company of friends and family, maybe it's [the presence of] those people that's the important intervention," he says.
If that's the case, laughter clubs can't be far behind--and in fact they're here already. Borrowing an idea from Indian physician Madan Kataria, the famed Laughing Yogi, Ohio-based psychologist and motivational speaker Steve Wilson has launched a therapeutic-laughter group and website worldlaughtertour.com) offering training for what he calls Certified Laughter Leaders--masters of mirth who establish clubs in hospitals and nursing homes to bring patients together and get them laughing.
One of the first laughter clubs in the U.S. got started at the Bethany Nursing Home in Canton, Ohio, in 1999. Since then, Wilson estimates, 1,000 Laughter Leaders have been certified and have fanned out to make merry around the country. "The patients all just get together and laugh," he says. "It's a way of blowing off steam and discharging tension."
That, of course, can be said of almost all laughter. Something that can help you not only relax but also connect with a friend, bond with a baby and even get over what ails you is clearly one of nature's brightest little brainstorms and not, after all, one of its little jokes. --With reporting by Carolina Miranda and Sora Song/New York