Feeling blue? Try forcing yourself to laugh

A South Shore woman is trying to lighten Montrealers' hearts with laughter yoga classes. Seeking happiness is all the more important during the pandemic, experts say.

Laughter yoga classes force Montrealers to laugh, despite difficult year

Laughter yoga classes, where participants force laughter, can help people deal with the uncertainty and anxiety of a pandemic year, says South Shore woman. (Chris Huggins/Flickr)

Every Saturday morning, a South Shore woman sits down in front of her laptop, opens Zoom, and forces a group of Montrealers, mostly aged 40 and over, to laugh for 10 minutes straight.

Meera Trivedi is not a comedian — she's leading her students through a laughter yoga session. 

In laughter yoga, participants are taught how to laugh, without a reason.

There are no jokes but there are some physical movements — like two thumbs up, or pointing at someone else in the class and laughing all together.

If the giggles don't come authentically, participants are encouraged to fake it.

Meera Trivedi teaches laughter yoga classes online. (Submitted by Meera Trivedi)

Trivedi, who teaches different types of yoga, says she first heard about the practice from the Oprah Winfrey show. 

"There was a guy on Oprah's team, he was very much negative. So she heard, and she sent him to the laughter yoga session for six months and when he came back, he was a totally changed person," said Trivedi.

Trivedi says she learned how to teach laughter yoga soon after, and has been teaching it ever since. She sees it as a service to the community.

"Laughter yoga actually is based on the principle that laughter is the best medicine, but laughter, you cannot make a capsule of laughter, so you have to laugh," she said.

Before the pandemic, Trivedi used to lead classes at a local school gym in Longueuil. Her local community centres would often refer individuals to her yoga practices, which are open to all.

When the pandemic hit, she had to stop the in-person classes altogether, but as the months dragged on, Trivedi says she felt like she had something to give.

"No interaction, no laughter, no happiness. Listening to the news even, was scary, that you had so many people dying," said Trivedi, recalling the first anxiety-riddled months of the pandemic.

"That's why I thought, no, I have to do something. I have to do laughter yoga. It will help people and it will help me too." 

Trivedi decided to try her hand at virtual yoga classes.

Canadians a little less happy

Canada's standing in the World Happiness Report has dipped — from being the 10th happiest country in the world, to the 15th.

The report measures variables like income, trust in government and freedom and other factors that affect how people evaluate their lives.

"Canada is one of the happiest places in the world, but it has been a little bit up and down. Now, it starts to look like it's a somewhat steady downward trend for about five years," said Christopher Barrington-Leigh, a happiness economist and associate professor at McGill University's Institute for Health and Social Policy and the Bieler School of Environment. 

As a happiness economist, Christopher Barrington-Leigh says his research has pushed him to make some changes in his own life to enhance his mood and well-being — like leading a laughing session in a lecture class. (Jennifer Yoon/CBC)

Data shows that people have also been dealing with more short-term negative emotions during the pandemic, said Barrington-Leigh.

Researchers in the U.K. asked people questions about their mood on a weekly basis, Barrington-Leigh said, and the results were not a shock: generally participants said they were dealing with more negative emotions like stress and anxiety.

While laughter isn't the answer to all of the world's problems, Barrington-Leigh says it can help improve mood in a short period of time. He can attest to that. 

"I've even, in a course, stood up in front of 200 people and led a laughing session, like people doing laughing yoga or laughing therapy. That was me getting out of my comfort zone for sure, but the point was, we can do things that can change, in the space of 60 seconds, you can really change your mood."

"If you stand in front of a mirror and laugh like a crazy person, after half a minute or a minute, it becomes real laughter — and I guarantee you will feel better. Now, if you want to supercharge it, do it with somebody else or in a group, and the effect is even stronger."

Barrington-Leigh says he hopes the pandemic will help people and policymakers reflect a bit more on what contributes to happier lives and happier societies.

"We've found out so starkly, so concretely, what happens when you become isolated or when you take away your meaningful daytime activities," he said.

"I hope this is an opportunity for people to think about investing in their own well-being."


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