1.1 Some History

Key takeaway:

  • Laughter has a long history as a therapeutic practice. How you approach it, as illustrated by Sebastian Gendry’s story, makes a big difference.
  • Laughter Wellness builds on Laughter Yoga, incorporating a more diverse range of activities and emphasizing personal growth, emotional well-being, and the integration of mindfulness practices.

On this page:

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Thank you for being interested in Laughter Wellness.

My name is Sebastian Gendry. Before we start, I would like to briefly tell you who I am and where I’m coming from so that you better understand what you can expect from this course.

I am a wellness engineer and creator of the Laughter Wellness method. I help individuals and teams who are stressed, stuck, or struggling to build bridges between the island of pain and the mainland of well-being. This is not how I started my career, however.

The Conflict: Twenty Years Ago

Twenty years ago, I was a successful but miserable corporate Jedi running my own business with two partners in England. To cut a seven-year story short, I allowed my life to become so incoherent with my core values that I made myself sick in a perfectly healthy environment:

  • I slowly became addicted to stress, which is a different way of saying that I lived in a dark cloud most of the time. (My hair started to turn grey before I was even 30.)
  • Feeling bad did not help my health much, and I suffered from chronic headaches and regular throat and chest infections.
  • My social life was almost non-existent, and I had difficulty developing close relationships. Life was work, work was life, and that was that.

Eventually, it became so bad that I decided I would not die the wealthiest man in my cemetery, so I quit, sold my shares, and moved on.

The Transition: Healing Journey

My healing journey took me on the roads of the world. I became an expert in various forms of bodywork and energy work, and it all helped. But the most fun, healing, and rewarding thing I did at that time was sign up for a Laughter Yoga workshop in India.

  • The fake laughter was awkward, but all my aches and pains mysteriously disappeared on day one and did not come back.
  • I experienced a deep connection with other participants that astonished me because we mostly intentionally laughed together and barely spoke.
  • It was as if my heart understood something that my head could not, and I kept experiencing more and more benefits when I got home.

What was going on?

Soon I learned that:

  • Laughter is the #1 enemy of stress and a healthy way to naturally create our daily D.O.S.E. of well-being (by DOSE, I mean dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins – the main hormones of happiness.)
  • Laughter effectively strengthens our immune functions and improves our natural defenses against illness.
  • Laughter is an easy and effective way to build group identity, solidarity, and cohesiveness. As we all know, “people who laugh together stay together.

I was hooked, on fire, and poured my soul into this project.

After Laughter, Wellness

By 2010 I had flown the equivalent of 22 round-the-world trips facilitating a variety of Laughter Yoga events with thousands of people on six continents and initiating the creation of hundreds of social laughter clubs.

It had been a fun ride, but I couldn’t go on any longer. What happened to me is best described by the graph below, which is known as the Dunning-Krueger effect. In the beginning, I knew nothing about laughter but thought I knew it all. I was on top of mount stupid. Five years later, I felt hopeless in the valley of despair. I was divorced, depressed (again), and in debt following the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

This was bad in a very good way because it forced me to reconsider everything I believed about laughter. I sensed that I had the proper tools but was misusing them. Something had to change.

And it did, after a lot of study and introspection, and that’s how the Laughter Wellness method was born.

Laughter Wellness is a powerful systemized delivery system for this laughter knowledge that all can use and benefit from without any social awkwardness or the stigma of silliness. It is filled with laughter, but it’s all about wellness and building conscious optimism in a safe, fun, and connecting way.

My goal in this course is not to persuade you of anything but to make you conscious of what is available. Laughter can be used as a powerful tool, and the good news is that it is built into the human machine, so all have access to it. Use it or ignore it. It will always be there, patiently waiting.

The Resolution: My Life Today


  • My resiliency to stress has gone through the roof, and I am hardly ever sick anymore.
  • My interpersonal skills have dramatically improved, and I have a vibrant emotional life.
  • I no longer laugh to move away from what I don’t want but rather to get closer to what I do want. The shift was subtle, but it changed everything. Life is challenging for everybody, and there is no escaping that. What’s different now is that before things happened to me, and I laughed to forget the pain. Now it all and always happens for me, and I laugh to remind myself of it. Here are some of the new questions I now ask myself when I let my guard down and allow the challenges I encounter to impact me emotionally: What do I need to learn? What am I resisting letting go of, and why? What can I do now with a positive attitude?

To me, Laughter Wellness…

  • …Is like a box of colored crayons, because it helps me when I feel blue to repaint my life with the colors of my choice.
  • …Is like a mental and emotional housecleaning using only eco-friendly products that I already have.
  • …Is like having fun exercising, but without knowing that I am.
  • …Is like getting a good infusion of type O- blood because it stops all emotional hemorrhages, fills me with energy, and brings life and colors back onto my face when I allow adversity to take these away.
  • …Is like activating an inner magnet that attracts positivity.

My wife has a different perspective. For her,

  • It’s like a cup of coffee in the morning, energizing and uplifting.
  • It’s like a new lipstick, adding a pop of color to the day.
  • It’s like a paintbrush that colors the mood.
  • It’s like a shopping trip for new clothes, empowering and uplifting.
  • It’s like a tonic for the mind and body.

May it be all these for you, those you love, and more!

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The Difference Between Laughter Wellness & Laughter Yoga

Laughter Wellness stands out as an innovative and comprehensive approach to well-being. While it shares some similarities with Laughter Yoga, Laughter Wellness places a stronger emphasis on personal growth, emotional well-being, and the integration of mindfulness practices. It also offers a more diverse range of activities, allowing for greater customization to individual needs and preferences. Laughter Wellness is designed to create a deeper, more holistic experience that fosters long-lasting positive effects on both physical and mental health.

Here is an 18 minutes presentation of Laughter Yoga by Dr. Madan Kataria, its main advocate:

12 minutes with Sebastian Gendry, creator of Laughter Wellness:

Brief History Of 3,000 Years Of Laughter

Everything that has been created builds upon the knowledge of those who came before it; nothing arises in isolation. To illustrate this point, let’s take a quick look (though partial since it’s only what I am aware of and not a comprehensive one) at the evolution of laughter over the past 3,000 years.

Once upon a time

I am not really interested in what philosophers had to say about laughter and humor throughout the ages, so let’s skip that part. I’ve referenced what I believe are the most important quotes on laughter that were made in the past 2,000 years here. Many books were published on the topic of laughter understood as humor but nothing that had a societal impact as far as I am aware.

The 1960’s
  • Gelotology: Dr. William F. Fry  (1924-2014), a professor of Psychology at Stanford University, California, was the first scientist to suggest in 1964 that laughter was a suitable field of study and the first to apply for public funding. However, this was during the Vietnam War, and all research projects were put on the back burner due to severe budgetary restraints. Undeterred, he pursued his interest on an informal, unfunded basis and published a number of landmark studies on the physiological processes that occur during laughter. He became the first self-proclaimed Gelotologist (an expert in the science of laughter from the Greek root gelos, to laugh.)
  • Healing Laughter : Norman Cousins(1915-1990), longtime editor of the Saturday Review, global peacemaker, receiver of hundreds of awards, including the UN Peace Medal and nearly 50 honorary doctorate degrees, raised a lot of public awareness about the healing power of laughter and positive emotions following his miraculous 1964 “laughter recovery” from a fatal illness, ankylosing spondylitis (a rare form of degenerative arthritis). He claimed that 10 minutes of belly-rippling laughter would give him two hours of pain-free sleep, where previously nothing, not even morphine, could help him. His story baffled the scientific community and inspired a number of research projects. His 1979 book Anatomy of an Illness is a classic (You may be able to watch the movie for free at http://lou.pm/ncm.) The way he phrased his message helped me improve the way I phrased mine.
  • Theater games: Viola Spolin (1906-1994) was an important innovator of American theater in the 20th century and is often referred to as the mother of improvisational theater. She developed scores of games that unleashed creativity, unlocked the individual’s capacity for creative self-expression… and prompted much laughter both for the participants and the audience. She indirectly influenced lots of people to attend comedy clubs to get their regular dose of belly laughter. Through her I learned many games that are a lot of fun in the second half of a Laughter Wellness intervention (find them here.)
  • The “New Games” movement  emerged in the late 1960s and built on Viola Spolin’s work by introducing a completely new genre of games focused on togetherness, non-aggression, non-competitiveness, and the enjoyment of playing. It taught that cooperating in play teaches us to live together better. The games weren’t really new. What was new was the spirit in which they were played ─ a spirit in which fun is more important than winning, and the players are more important than the game. It was very influential and offered a new direction for traditional sports, physical education, and recreation. I incorporated a lot of these games into the Soft Skills Games database.
The 1970’s
  • Laughter Therapy: Dr. Annette Goodheart (1935-2011) was a psychologist from Santa Barbara, California, specializing in laughter therapy starting in the late 1960s. She created the theoretical framework for the use of voluntary simulated laughter that everybody in this field still uses today. She also created a whole set of techniques on how to use laughter to release (and thereby provide relief from) strong or repressed emotions. Her book Laughter Therapy is a good read and remains as relevant as ever.
  • Medical Clowning: Dr. Hunter (Patch) Adams committed his life, starting in the early 1970s, to bringing fun and laughter back into the hospital world and putting into practice the idea that “healing should be a loving human interchange, not a business transaction.” Unrelated, but around the same time, professional clowns from the not-for-profit Big Apple Circus started to do hospital visits. They slowly developed a strong training program for therapeutic hospital clowns and made it officially public in 1986. Their message and techniques spread worldwide over the following years. In 1998 the Hollywood feature film on Patch Adams, starring Robin Williams, gave the world of therapeutic hospital clowns unprecedented exposure and public recognition.
  • Hasya Yoga & Laughter Clubs: Shri Baheti, a retired Indian businessman, took on the teaching of Hasya Yoga (Laughter Yoga) as a retirement project and started to advocate and promote social laughter clubs in Jaipur, India, in 1970. His work never gained momentum outside of his state, though.
The 1980’s
  • Humor Associations. Humor scholars started to meet formally and discuss findings at international conferences starting in 1976. The American Association for Therapeutic Humor was founded in 1987, and the International Society for Humor Studies followed in 1988. Both of these organizations unite several hundred professionals interested in integrating humor into a variety of therapeutic modalities. Together they have published hundreds of articles on the health benefits of laughter, and their members have written many books and spoken at numerous conferences. The public education work they have done is simply phenomenal.
  • Dynamic Meditations: Osho (1931-1990) was a spiritual teacher that had a notable impact on Western spirituality as well as New Age thought. In 1988 he introduced the Mystic Rose Meditation, a three-week process involving voluntary simulated laughter, tears, and silence. The first week involves three hours of daily laughing, non-stop and for no reason, starting with a Yahoo! The second week is for crying, also non-stop for three full hours; and the third week is for active silence. Thousands participated over the following years. It is still offered every month at the Osho International Meditation Resort (http://lou.pm/osho) in Pune, India, and at other places around the world. His technique is the foundation of what is known as the laughter meditation in the Dr. Kataria approach to Laughter Yoga.
  • Conscious Laughter: Marí Cruz Garcia from Spain independently developed her concept of “Conscious Laughter” in the early 1980s and created the first formal laughter school in the world to train Laughter Therapists in 1990. Although she is mostly unknown in the English-speaking community because of the language barrier, a lot of her work has blended into Laughter Yoga over time.
The 1990’s
  • Laughter Yoga: Dr. Madan Kataria reinvented Hasya Yoga, rebranded it Laughter Yoga in 1995, and empowered a global grass-roots network throughout India. It slowly became a worldwide phenomenon and led over the years to multiple major media exposure pretty much everywhere in all industrialized countries, effectively benefiting all. (I got featured myself in the Oprah Winfrey Show – the biggest TV show in the world at the time with over 49 million viewers in the US alone – in 2007, with a re-run in 2008 and 2009.)
  • World Laughter Tour: Steve Wilson is a psychologist from Ohio, USA, who developed a passion for laughter and humor starting in the 1970s and brought the concept of Laughter Clubs to the USA in the late 1990s. He is the founder of the World Laughter Tour and claims to have trained over 6,000 Certified Laughter Leaders in North America  alone. His program incorporates a mix of  simulated laughter exercises, non-competitive games, music, movement, creative arts, positive activity interventions, and neuro-sciences.
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