Thursday, February 12, 2015

Let Wrinkles Come (by Pete Ward)

Guest Post: Peter Ward

It was not hard to nick a pic of Pete (from Facebook) showing him looking content. This is a very silly man who has a lot of fun. I have always been interested by how in South Africa, people tend to study based on a chosen vocation. First you choose what you want to be, then you study that. A Doctor studies medicine. An Accountant studies accounting. An Actuary studies actuarial science. I met Pete at an Asset Management firm we both worked at. He was working in trade settlement and project management. He studied Biology. In the UK, it seems people can study anything, including the mating habits of the north sea clam, as long as it makes them think. I love this idea. I think perhaps we should spend our entire twenties doing active labour orientated service jobs and learning how to live. Then pick a vocation, study and weave it in. Pete is a fascinating guy. I hope you enjoy his post and I can get him to keep us entertained on regular basis with some of his thoughts and tales.


Let Wrinkles Come 
by Pete Ward

My 87 year old grandmother has a handful of sayings that include: "Don't be so bloody silly" and "Are you having a gay old time?" but the one she probably says more than anything else is "The most important thing in life is laughter". It's well known that laughter is involved in producing that wonderful class of hormones, the endorphins, and since endorphins are linked to the feeling of euphoria and pain blocking it is fair to say that laughter and happiness are fairly well entwined.


Without wishing to get bogged down in whether you need to be 'happy' before you can laugh or whether laughter causes happiness, there are some noteworthy facts about the two (The study of laughter is called Gelotology, an anagram of Glee Go Tony).

If you saw some people in a room laughing most people would call them happy (I'm ignoring the sort of laughter that comes with the complete despair or frustration of, for example, being on the phone to Vodafone's customer service team for 3 hours to get a SIM card activated). Indeed, when my acquaintances declare that they have just come back from a poverty stricken country and say "They have nothing, but are so happy" they are usually alluding to children laughing (often overlooking the fact that children from most socio-economic backgrounds and cultures laugh a great deal if given the opportunity but their grim-faced parents do not!).

How laughter evolved has interested Glee Go Tonys for years but the best theory is that it is a solution to growing primate groups where the traditional methods of bonding (such as grooming for parasites) are simply unfeasible where the numbers in the group are over about 50 (incidentally, this is also thought to be the reason why gossip evolved).

So, we have established that laughing makes one feel good and was probably crucial for keeping social order in our primate ancestors. It makes you feel good and makes others feel good. However, there is a well-known link between comedians and depression. Comedians including Spike Milligan, Kenneth Williams, Peter Cook, Stephen Fry and the late Robin Williams have all spoken about their manic bouts of depression and these are men that laughed and made others laugh for a living! That list of men have (or, sadly, had) exceptional abilities, possible other mental disorders (commonly bipolar) and may not be representative of your or me, but it is worth recognising that laughing, both giving and receiving, is not a panacea for lifelong happiness.

Whilst I am a big fan of laughing, it is a transient thing and nobody can laugh constantly throughout their life to bring happiness, no matter how many times you watch Fawlty Towers. I think the pursuit of happiness involves more than a quick joke or another YouTube video of a chimpanzee smelling its own poo, but they can help. Even the man with arguably the greatest insight into human emotion that ever lived knew the importance of a good chuckle.

'With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.' William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice)

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In writing a blog about several topics in which I admit to being a complete beginner, I am going to have to rely heavily on the people I am writing for who cumulatively know most of what I am likely to learn already. I would love it if some of you found the time to write a guest post on the subject of happiness or learning. The framework I use for thinking about these things is what I call the '5 + 2 points' which includes proper (1) exercise, (2) breathing, (3) diet, (4) relaxation, (5) positive thinking & meditation, (+1) relationships, (+2) flow. Naturally if you would like to write about something that you think I have missed, I would love to include that too. If you are up to doing something more practical, it would be awesome if you did a 100 hour project and I am happy to do the writing based on our chats if that is how you roll. Email me at trevorjohnblack@gmail.com 


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