What is the Big Idea?
Belachew Girma was once a school teacher, store owner and hotel owner. It seemed like he had it all. But after a series of bad choices, his life took a turn for the worse when both his wife and lover died after they contracted H.I.V. from him. His hotel and store burned down and both were destroyed again by floods after it was rebuilt. He couldn't catch a break.
It's hard to believe that a man with very little to smile about laughed for three hours and six minutes in Germany, a feat that made him the World Laughter Champion in 2008. And now, he is also the founder of Ethiopia's first Laughter School.
"The school’s website says that people can even be trained to laugh in the face of hunger and destruction. Whether it was this claim or the site’s quaint English, 22 Ethiopians have already signed up for a laughter course," according to Die Welt.
What is the Significance?
Alemayehu Anbessie, one of Girma's followers, has a tumor on his right cheek the size of an orange. But he spends so much time laughing with his teacher that he no longer needs medicine.
“I can’t laugh the cancer away,” says the engineer, “but the laughter helps me live with the cancer. Since I’ve learned how to laugh, I don’t need painkillers anymore.”
Laughter makes people feel good, according to cartoonist and Big Thinker, Robert Mankoff. It's also able to help alleviate stress, which explains why Girma and Anbessie feel relief from their cancer and H.I.V.
"Since laughter actually occurs often in some stressful situation and transforms the stress, it reduces stress, so you know it’s a stress reducer," said Mankoff. "It can act as a mild analgesic."
Whether his students are stressed, suffering or just in need of better people skills, Girma teaches them that a day without laughter is a lost day. It's been over 3,500 days since Girma had a lost day.
Watch Robert Mankoff talk about the science of laughter:
Image courtesy of Shutterstock