Your sense of humour is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health – Paul E. McGhee


Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humour lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert.  With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource for surmounting problems, enhancing your relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health.


  • During my infancy, I used to laugh a lot.  My grandmother who was a Zionist wore green and white clothes and at 7pm every day and on Sunday, we used to pray.  My Gran was such a stickler for timing that no matter what happened church started on time – with or without you.  If you were still brushing your teeth, you had to hurry up and finish quickly…..such a lovely memory.
  • I remember on my first day of school, I highly embarrassed my sister because at the assembly I was screaming at the top of my voice that I wanted my school fees!  Being a child I didn’t understand that you didn’t get given the school fees but rather that you paid them to be taught.  At the same time I was in shock and very scared because I heard the word phakela which is the Setswana word for ‘in the morning’ but in isiSiswati and isiZulu it means ‘dishing up’.  I was in tears because I thought they wanted me to dish up for the entire school!
  • My sister Maureen and I were very close growing up and we often used to laugh at absolutely nothing.  This used to irritate our mother to no end and the more she asked what we were laughing at, the more we laughed.  The thought of this still makes me laugh today.
  • When I was in primary school, my teacher trusted us so much that she would send us to clean her house.  Whilst we were there we would find interesting things to put on bread and make sandwiches (we didn’t have much variety at home) so this was very exciting for us.
  • There was this one teacher who didn’t have any hair at the back of her head but always wanted us to plait her hair… was so funny trying to make a plait with a few strands of hair.
  • My cousin worked at Rainbow Chicken and when he visited, he used to bring live chickens into our house.  We would run amok with these live chickens all over the place – it was hilarious!
  • Once my aunt got stuck in her car, a station wagon and my cousin who was supposed to go and help her but he said that he only worked with pen and paper and couldn’t be expected to push her car.  He also told our aunt that it would be better if she bought a Mercedes Benz, a fancier car!
  • Many moons ago my cousin visited us in the township and gave us a bath in the enamel bath that we used.  When he was finished bathing us, he would throw the dirty bathwater next door and my sisters and I used to laugh every time he did it.
  • Our Mother was very light skinned and had straight hair so on many occasions, people used to ask if we (my siblings and I) were all adopted because we looked nothing like her.
  • My younger sister and her friend painted the windows with ash once (not sure why they did it) but it was hilarious and they would also eat polony and cheese in great chunks without cutting it.  It’s amazing the things we remember!!
  • My younger sister liked cooking and often cooked delicious meals for all of but always had a headache during dishwashing time.  To this day, when she offers to cook, I think of that!
  • Mother never forced us to go to church but she used to lock the front door when she left so you either went to church or you stayed outside the entire time she was gone.
  • Whilst we were growing up, we always got the same school shoes year in and year and we often laughed at each other hoping to get something different (which we knew wouldn’t happen, that made it all the funnier).
  • One year our baby sister cut up the dress she received for Christmas because it was homemade and she didn’t want it!!
  • It always makes me chuckle to remember that after lighting the candles on New Year’s Eve, we weren’t allowed to play in the streets with the other children as our father used to lock the gate and keep us indoors!!  Thank God he did.
  • Our Dad used to dish fish, gravy and pap but each food item was on a separate plate – we all used to laugh at this because it was so different to the way we dished our food.
  • A long time ago, a salesman came to our house.  My dad let him in, allowed him to speak about his product and give his demonstration but didn’t say one word throughout.  After the salesman was done, my father told him that he didn’t have an appointment to meet with the salesman and wouldn’t waist his energy and promptly asked him to leave!
  • During one holiday I travelled to Chiawelo in Soweto to visit my aunt and cousin with whom I was very close.  We had a marvelous time during the school holidays and when the time came for me to leave, we hatched a plan that she would return home with me.  The problem was that we didn’t tell anyone and she just got on the train with me.  Now remember that this was the tie before cellphones and her parents had to frantically wait for the train to arrive to find our if she was safe.  We got in a lot of trouble but the memory of our audacity always makes me smile.
  • My one cousin who was such a casanova, had the smoothest hands that were soft as butter.  He used to bring girlfriends to our house to visit but pretend that my siblings and I were his helpers and that he had Mercedes Benz in the garage.  None of this was true but it was hilarious.
  • After my cousin had just gotten married, he came to my mother to complain about his brand new wife.  He said he didn’t understand her and that she didn’t clean properly.  He was so upset that he could never find anything in the house.  He would find his combs under the bed and never knew where his clothes were.  All he got from my mother was that perhaps it would be a good idea to prepare his things before he went to bed so everything would be in place the enxt morning!  He was very annoyed but we all laughed.
  • My uncle passed away and our cousin came to relay the sad news to us.  He just kept repeating the story over and over again and our other cousin just said “Do you have the funeral money or not?”.  We all cracked up even though it was a sad time.
  • When we were given money to purchase items in preparation for school, my sister used to buy a few good quality items and I would buy lots and lots of cheaper things – this was a standing joke at home about my fondness for lots of stuff.
  • Whilst our parents worked, the next door neighbor who was like a father to us, used to supervise the boys who came to our house to visit.  When young boys arrived, he asked them what they wanted.  They always replied that they had come for homework help.  Baba replied that none of the Chirwa sisters were teachers so it was best that they left and out of fear they did!
  • After I just gotten married, I visited my mother’s house wearing short pants, the same neighbor was at the gate when I arrived and very politely said:  Hello my grandchild.  This amazed me as I had just got married and was only gone for a short while.  When I responded that it was Yvonne.  He said he thought I was a young lady because of my shorts.
  • My cousin was very well spoken and came across very educated.  He always used to ask my mother’s friends what level in school they had achieved.  This was perceived as rude but he didn’t care and my mother used to get cross with him every time.


Secondary school

  • I attended Marian Hill in KZN for secondary school and on St. Francis Day we saw a black mamba snake in the garden.  We were all terrified as we knew it was a dangerous snake. During afternoon classes, our Latin teacher had a vase of flowers on his desk that he always sat on during lessons.  We noticed this day that the flowers were going to fall so we all made a noise and the teacher jumped up and ran away thinking that the snake was now in the classroom.
  • We were not allowed to speak between 5:30 – 7:30, so when one person did something silly, even just miming that they would like a knife, we would all laugh and then get into trouble which made us laugh even more.
  • During a lesson, the teacher asked what it meant to let sleeping dogs lie?  A student answered with vigour that it meant that you shouldn’t wake lazy dogs!!  I burst out laughing and then the entire class followed suit.


  • In my early 20’s when I took assembly in my first few months as a teacher the students didn’t respond when I gave an instruction because they were staring at me with surprise because I was so young.
  • After I got married, I invited my in laws for Sunday lunch for the first time.  When my mother-in-law saw all the food I had prepared, she asked if we were having a party.  I was used to cooking so much food because I came from a big family.  When I told my mother she laughed and laughed.
  • When I started working at Macmillan Publishers, we went to an Italian restaurant for lunch.   I was unsure of the food on the menu so I just ordered a pasta.  When the meal arrived, I really didn’t like it but felt that I had to eat it.  So I ate the pasta with long teeth until my boss noticed this and said that I should take it home for someone else to eat and get Chicken Licken on the way back to the office.
  • I joined the SABC in October 1998 and by January 1999, I had to be ready to launch School TV.  I did the best I could in a short space of time but when I saw the first episode, I almost died.  I thought it was so ugly.  This made me laugh.
  • After I had a double stroke and was in the ICU, there was an elderly man in the bed next to me.   When the staff asked him what we wanted to eat, he would act like he was deaf.  When I asked him why he was doing that he said that it didn’t matter what he chose because it all tasted the same:  sugar-free, fat-free.  He said that he couldn’t wait to go home and he would sit at the table and eat the broccoli and carrots his wife made but go to the helper for the nice potjiekos!!!
  • Whilst I was in New York City, my taxi driver who was from Dakar told me that he loved the city and he only missed his home because in New York you couldn’t beat your wife or child, that the police would come quickly.  I was shocked and amused all at the same time.


  • Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.


Physical Health Benefits:

  • Boosts immunity
  • Lowers stress hormones
  • Decreases pain
  • Relaxes your muscles
  • Prevents heart disease

Mental Health Benefits:

  • Adds joy and zest to life
  • Eases anxiety and fear
  • Relieves stress
  • Improves mood
  • Enhances resilience

Social Benefits:

  • Strengthens relationships
  • Attracts others to us
  • Enhances teamwork
  • Helps defuse conflict
  • Promotes group bonding

Laughter makes you feel good. And the good feeling that you get when you laugh remains with you even after the laughter subsides. Humour helps you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss.

More than just a respite from sadness and pain, laughter gives you the courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope. Even in the most difficult of times, a laugh–or even simply a smile–can go a long way toward making you feel better. And laughter really is contagious—just hearing laughter primes your brain and readies you to smile and join in the fun.

Humour and playful communication strengthen our relationships by triggering positive feelings and fostering emotional connection. When we laugh with one another, a positive bond is created. This bond acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, and disappointment.

Laughter is your birthright, a natural part of life that is innate and inborn. Infants begin smiling during the first weeks of life and laugh out loud within months of being born. Even if you did not grow up in a household where laughter was a common sound, you can learn to laugh at any stage of life.

Begin by setting aside special times to seek out humour and laughter, as you might with working out, and build from there. Eventually, you’ll want to incorporate humour and laughter into the fabric of your life, finding it naturally in everything you do.

Here are some ways to start:

  • Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter. Like laughter, it’s contagious. Pioneers in “laugh therapy,” find it’s possible to laugh without even experiencing a funny event. The same holds for smiling. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling.
  • Count your blessings. Literally make a list. The simple act of considering the good things in your life will distance you from negative thoughts that are a barrier to humour and laughter. When you’re in a state of sadness, you have further to travel to get to humour and laughter.
  • When you hear laughter, move toward it. Sometimes humour and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but usually not. More often, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humour you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask, “What’s funny?”
  • Spend time with fun, playful people. These are people who laugh easily–both at themselves and at life’s absurdities–and who routinely find the humour in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter are contagious.
  • Bring humour into conversations. Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?”


When you find yourself taken over by what seems to be a horrible problem, ask these questions:

  • Is it really worth getting upset over?
  • Is it worth upsetting others?
  • Is it that important?

  • Is it that bad?
  • Is the situation irreparable?
  • Is it really your problem?

The ability to laugh, play, and have fun with others not only makes life more enjoyable but also helps you solve problems, connect with others, and be more creative. People who incorporate humour and play into their daily lives find that it renews them and all of their relationships.  Life brings challenges that can either get the best of you or become playthings for your imagination. When you “become the problem” and take yourself too seriously, it can be hard to think outside the box and find new solutions. But when you play with the problem, you can often transform it into an opportunity for creative learning.  Playing with problems seems to come naturally to children. When they are confused or afraid, they make their problems into a game, giving them a sense of control and an opportunity to experiment with new solutions. Interacting with others in playful ways helps you retain this creative ability.

As laughter, humour, and play become an integrated part of your life, your creativity will flourish and new discoveries for playing with friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and loved ones will occur to you daily. Humour takes you to a higher place where you can view the world from a more relaxed, positive, creative, joyful, and balanced perspective.


I have found that humour is infectious.  That the sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy. Laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body and strengthens your immune system, boosts your energy, diminishes pain, and protects you from the damaging effects of stress. Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free, and easy to use.

Ditch the medicine cabinet and just laugh!

Words: Yvonne Kgame

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