When life is busy, it’s hard to remember to laugh and see the humour in things. Paul Montague tells Ara Jansen we should prescribe laughter to ourselves regularly.
When was the last time you laughed? Really laughed. When it exploded out of you, unbidden and without caring what anyone thought?
If it has been a while, perhaps it’s time to prescribe some laughter and humour for your week.
Paul Montague understands deeply the benefits of laughter and comedy. He grew up with bipolar in his family and household, as well as being a rare case of developing the condition at a non-typically early age.
Stand-up comedy was his trade for many years, and he led workshops on writing and performing comedy. Not only did it and laughter help him with his own emotional balance, but like music, Paul believes uplifting comedy can change the way we see the world and ourselves. Let’s not forget, it’s just flat-out fun too.
He now wears two hats as a minister of religion at Wembley Downs Church of Christ and as a community educator specialising in mental health, communication and conflict resolution. You’ll also hear him regularly on the radio with his Pirate Church, Holy Heretic show. Those who hear his sermons – or reads them on social media – will know he eruditely mingles scholarship, faith, modern sense and humour in his teachings.
“Laughter as medicine, as a life-giving discipline, is just as important for personal, relational and community health as it has ever been,” he says. “It literally helps us breathe and oxygenate.
“It neurologically resets us and provides huge endorphin boosts. It helps sleep, digestion – all the important stuff. It’s free from cost, side effects and increases in efficacy the more you share it.”
Living with bipolar, Paul is mindful of the double-edged sword of a “positive frame of mind”. When depressed, positivity of mind is a vital goal for getting through, for recovering and some days, survival.
Equally he’s wary of the unhelpfully excessive positivity that comes when feeling euphorically hypomanic or manic. Humour is the equaliser of both states for him. A humour-focused perspective dispels any illusion that he needs to take the world, ourselves or our circumstances too seriously.
“A healthy dose of absurdism is great. Get some bathos in your pathos, people! Laughter brings inner peace and calm. In my experience, happiness is transient. While it’s a great daily goal, peace and calm are the foundation of wellbeing. Laughing at myself and the world resets my body to peace and calm – and my mind follows.”
He loves the way kids just laugh so easily and do it largely without caring who sees or hears them explode into gales of giggles. They don’t judge the importance of it, the way adults often police themselves not to laugh, make too much noise or hope they don’t look silly.
“Adults can fall into judging laughter as an optional indulgence or distraction, which is dumb as hell – a bit like deciding that getting a proper night’s sleep is optional.”
Laughter does only good things and has positive physical, mental and social benefits. Physically, laughter helps boost immunity, lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, relaxes muscles, burns calories and diffuses anger’s heavy load.
Mentally, having a jolly good laugh adds zest to life, relieves anxiety and stress, improves mood and strengthens resilience. Humour helps you keep a positive and optimistic outlook on life amidst difficult situations.
Even a smile – or smiling at someone else – can go a long way to making you feel better and can shift your perspective. Plus, laughter is thoroughly contagious!
“Offering someone a smile or receiving and returning a smile is definitely uplifting. It’s regenerative. It’s the exact opposite of awkward social interaction, which is emotionally and energetically draining. Sharing a smile is socially harmonious – and that’s a gift in times of fractious community.
“I absolutely notice when I’ve gone a length of days without really laughing, which reminds me that I absolutely should commit to a daily discipline around it. The days I laugh freely are my best days, in terms of health, productivity, mood and how warm and cooperative I am in my relationships.
“I know how to make myself laugh. I can bring myself there with a practice somewhat like laughter yoga – making myself mimic the physical action of laughter until the laughter becomes genuine. I do that often with my five-year-old son in the car and we both love it.”
Paul’s favourite laughs
Blackadder, Monty Python and Fawlty Towers
Catherine Tate, Cunk on Britain and Fleabag
Favourite stand-up special of recent years:
Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation
10 movies to make you laugh:
- The Castle
- Groundhog Day
- This is Spinal Tap
- Patch Adams
- Some Like it Hot
- Duck Soup