Want to be happy? Three simple lessons from laughing babies.

Today is International Happiness Day. As our small contribution we thought we’d share some wisdom from the happiest people on the planet, laughing babies.

1. People make us happy

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Laughter and happiness are best when shared. We laugh with our friends.  The bond between baby and parent is the best friendship there is and that’s why babies and parents laugh more than the rest of us.  But everyone can improve their happiness by improving their relationships.

2. Challenge yourself every day

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If you are a baby, every new day brings a new challenge . And each success brings great happiness. If you are not a baby, finding new challenges can be more… challenging. But it will be worth it. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied remarkably happy people from all walks of life and discovered that this was their secret.

3. Be present

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Babies laugh more than us because they are constantly stopping to look around. They are never in a such a rush to get somewhere else that they miss the magic of right now.

 

As it happens, all three of these make it into  Action for Happiness’s 10 keys to happier living. They also have a special site set up just for today.  There’s lots going on  all over the world. Share your stories on twitter with the hashtag #happinessday. 

Finally, I am happy to say, I’m not the only person at Birkbeck studying happiness. David Tross is an associate lecturer in public policy and is studying for a PhD in Community and Happiness studies. Over on the Birkbeck research blog he asks ‘Could greater happiness be a permanent reality?’

Share and Enjoy!

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Welcome readers of the Daily Mail

The baby laughter project was featured in the Daily Mail today. So if you saw us there, thank you for visiting our site. We hope you like our laughing babies and all the hard work they are doing for science.

There are three ways you can help our research:

  1.  Share your own stories of what makes your babies laugh the most.
  2. Send us your laughing baby videos.
  3. Tell your friends. More babies = more data = better science = more laughter. Click the share buttons at the end of this article

In the meantime, we thought you might like to see some of the highlights from our project

Cosmo laughing at just 3 weeks old

Click for bigger

Frederick laughing at his own reflection

Read our explanation of why Frederick finds this funny.

Dominic – a world record holder

At just three months Dominic is the youngest ever baby fan of ripping paper. He is less than half the age of famous internet star Baby Micah. The fact that a baby as young as Dominic finds this funny is a real challenge to our understanding of their knowledge of the world. Read more here.

Caspar on the BBC News

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Click on the image to watch the video.

 

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. To keep up to date follow us on twitter or subscribe to our Baby laughter blog RSS feed.

Thank you for visiting and thank you to all the parents and babies who have taken part so far,
Dr. Caspar Addyman

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Baby Dominic laughing at 3 months and 20 months

Your Babies #025: Dominic is back

Remember Dominic? He’s a world record breaker and the star of BBC’s coverage of our project. He’s an old friend of the Baby Laughter project. Well, not that old, he’s only 20 months old. But he was 3 and bit months old when we last heard from him. So that’s seven times as old as when he first appeared.

He’s also adding singing to range of talents.

Thanks once again to Dominic and his family for sharing their laughter.

Laughter begins with a tickle.

Happy new year, everyone.

Now that our baby laughter survey is over, I am going carefully through the results for a scientific write-up and for a potential book project. Appropriately for the start of a new year, I’m beginning by looking  at the very earliest laughs and what causes them. The answer seems to be tickling. Going through parent’s responses, gentle tickling  already seems to elicit laughter by 1 or 2 months old.

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What caused your baby’s first laugh?

It was after I changed and fed him I was talking to him and smiling at him I tickled the sides of his face telling him he was cheeky and very cute.
Male, 2 months, UK

I was doing  “chipmunks” on his stomach (basically just rapid tickles with fingertips) and working my way up to his cheeks and he just went ballistic. It was the cutest thing I have ever seen.
Male, 3 months, USA

I was in her face trying to make her laugh.  I was tickling on her chest/underarms using a high pitched voice, smiling in her face in an attempt to get her to laugh.  It was that throaty, “hnnnnngh” laugh that she did.
Female, 2.5 months, USA

Being tickled by a frilly shirt being put over her head.
Female, 2 months, Canada

I started tickling him. Now even when I just say “tickle tickle”, he smiles/laughs.
Male, 6 months, USA

tickling his feet, or going “nom nom nom” and pretending to eat his belly
Male, 5 months,  USA

His first laugh was in his sleep at about two weeks old, his first awake laughs were for tickles
Male, 1 month, UK

His dad’s tickly whiskers were tickling him when his dad was kissing him
Male, 3 months, Australia

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Most memorable laughs

My husband tickling our babies feet on his beard
– Male, 2 months, UK

Friend who thought he wasn’t good with babies blowing raspberries in her face and tickling her belly got a lovely chuckle – he was over the moon!
– Female, 4 months, UK

Laughing while playing with her dad. He will hold her upside down, which causes her to start laughing. He’ll then hold her on his lap and start tickling her around her ears and neck, or kissing her around her ears and neck, and she’ll go into hysterics.
– Female, 5 months, USA

He has a particularly deep belly laugh when his tummy is kissed or tickled.
– Male, 9 months, UK

Although, this is not always without risk..

His dad was tickling him while changing his diaper and he pooped on his dad
-Male, 2 months, USA

The first joke

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We’ve mentioned before Robert Provine’s theory that a feigned tickle  of might have been the first joke that ancient human’s ever made.  And certainly the babies in our survey seem to love the anticipation almost as much as the tickle itself.

Hysterics when his daddy was pretending to tickle him & blowing raspberries on his tummy
– Male, 4 months, UK

Just today, at just over 5 months old really, I realised that I can make her laugh now with just eye contact. It all still revolves around tickling her or “threatening” to tickle her. Initially, she’d only laugh when tickled. Next, she’d laugh when I pretended to come close and tickle her, holding my hands above her belly or going her her with my face pretending to tickle her. Now, just the “roaring” sound I usually make with it or a mischievous look from me will set off a giggling fit.
– Female, 5 months, UK

She was about eight months old, and sitting on the bed with her dad. He was tickling her, and she would laugh so hard she would fall over. Then, after a few rounds of this, she started to laugh and fall over before his fingers reached her neck– the anticipation was enough.
– Female, 15 months, USA


Madeline gets tickled a video by CodyR on Flickr.

Please share your tickling stories and videos

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Your Babies #020: Infant schadenfreude?

Our latest video comes from Diana and shows baby Ciera laughing as her twin brother Cole face plants the floor as he reaches for her bouncer. Ciera and Cole are just 1 year old in this video so it probably seems unlikely to you that Ciera’s laughter is a form of schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortune of others). Sigmund Freud thought it was. But, not for the first time, Freud got it completely wrong.

mr schadenfreude by roger hargreavesFreud thought that almost all children’s laughter was a form of schadenfreude. In his 1905 book Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious he advanced the theory that children laugh at someone falling over primarily because they are glad it wasn’t them. He does admit that children can laugh from pure pleasure but he thinks that generally ‘children are without a feeling for the comic’ (p288 Freud, 1905) and that most of their laughter comes from a rare sense of superiority when someone makes a mistake they’re glad they didn’t make themselves.

This is a very paternalistic attitude to childhood. Firstly, children are not so self-conscious or even aware of their own limitations. Secondly, it is wrong to think that children’s natural reaction to someone-else’s misfortune would be negative. It’s a common misconception but recent research suggests that young children and even babies are actually empathic and moral. As developmental psychologist  says in her recent Guardian column:

If you have any experience of babies you’d be forgiven for thinking of them as entirely selfish, self-oriented little beasts with scant regard for others. It has long been thought that children are born amoral and that it is the job of their culture to teach them the difference between good and bad. However, studies with very young babies suggest that they might be much nicer than we previously thought.

For instance, babies seem to empathize with the distress of others – crying in response to the cries of other babies and stroking or offering toys to those who seem to be upset. Babies also spontaneously help strangers who are struggling.

The Moral Life of Babies (Guardian Online)

So the chances are that the first reaction of a baby to someone falling over would be one of concern. But if that were the case then why is Ceira laughing at her unfortunate brother? To be honest, I don’t think anybody really knows the real answer. For Ceira it might just be surprise. Possibly it is relief that he isn’t hurt; we rarely laugh if the accident looks serious. But, ultimately, there aren’t any fully convincing answers at the moment as to why babies or adults find falls and slapstick so amusing. We clearly do. IT is amazing (and slightly disturbing) quite how many videos of babies faceplanting there are on youtube. It seems it is not just Ciera who finds it funny.

In the same book Freud also said that ‘children do not strike us in any way comic’ (p287 Freud 1905). As all these videos show he couldn’t be more wrong about that!

UPDATE (11 Mar 2014):
Added Mr. Schadenfreude 🙂