Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Laughter. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.

”While laughter should not replace exercise, we do recommend that you try to laugh on a regular basis. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system." So says Dr. Michael Miller of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His recommendation was based on research in which volunteers were shown a funny film and a grim one. Average blood flow increased 22 percent during laughter.

Today in the UK, Comic Relief is raising money for projects at home and overseas which benefit people in need. Here too, laughter is helping sustain the flow of life blood to those who struggle to maintain the basic necessities of life.

Laughter comes in many shapes and sizes. It can be mocking or affectionate, uproarious or secretive; it can come in response to fear or embarrassment as well as to wit or slap-stick. People whose struggles seem to be almost overwhelming often find strength to share a good laugh; those who look as if they have it made can sometimes appear to be rather humourless.

Jesus delighted in parties and fun. These were not extras. They were not distractions from what life was really all about. The number of times we know he attended meals or celebrations of one sort or another, and the frequency with which he used stories about them in his teaching, make them central to his life, part of his life blood.

Let’s today delight in humour, in the people who make us laugh and in times of fun. They are gifts to be grateful for and to build into the regular pattern of our lives.

Dr Little Cake and Dr White Cabbage normally work on the children’s wards at Rome's Gemelli hospital. Day after day, their red noses and clowning antics cheer up children for whom smiling may not be the most natural response to what happening to them. They even offered to visit the late Pope John Paul during his final sickness. "We want to go and see him, if he'll have us," said one of the clowns. "After all it's our job to bring a smile wherever there is suffering,"

Serious illness and the suffering that go with it are not laughing matters. Crises in our personal lives or shared tragedy bring fear, grief and often tears. When confronted with such pain, those who try to bring support inevitably feel the solemnity of the situation.

Occasionally, though, people in distress quite value a lighter touch. Suffering tends to overwhelm, to create the feeling that there is nothing else left. It can be reassuring to be reminded that there are other things going on in the world. Something which lifts the eyes and the spirits above the present circumstances can have a therapeutic effect.

Clowning and joking are not the only way of offering such temporary release in situations of sadness. There are times when any light relief would be cruelly inappropriate. But if we encounter heartbreaking situations today, it’s worth remembering that allowing ourselves to get drawn into the pain is not always helpful; a lighter touch sometimes contributes to the healing.

A university in Graz, Austria, is offering homeless people lectures on how to laugh. In Germany, special laughter clubs teach the forgotten art of laughter, using techniques ranging from laughter exercises to joke telling. A German hotel is offering laughter holidays. "The amount of money people in Germany have been spending on laughter clubs and courses has shown there is a market for improving people's sense of fun. Our Laugh a Minute Holidays have been a great success," says hotel owner, Franz Pirktl.

The project with homeless people is sponsored by the Austrian equivalent of the Big Issue magazine, Megaphon. The course raises people’s sense of contentment, an important first step in the path back to self-respect. "Up to 80 muscles are used to have a really good laugh. The body gets a very healthy work-out,” says laughter expert Professor Gunther Sickl. "The heart beats faster, blood pressure rises and oxygen levels in the blood increase as breathing accelerates. Possibly most important of all, endorphins, the brain drugs, are released - they not only promote a feeling of well-being but are seen by most doctors as the best natural drugs of all. Phrases such as laughing yourself sick should actually be turned around to read laughing yourself well.”

Let’s today be grateful for all those things and people which make us laugh, and make sure we get enough of the experience.

Six years ago yesterday, posters put up in the previous week around Nottingham were being hastily removed. The Playhouse’s production of Love upon the Throne, a satirical comedy about the failed relationship between Charles and Diana, had been postponed indefinitely. In the light of Diana’s death, laughter at her expense was singularly inappropriate.

But when is it appropriate to laugh at people. Are public figures normally fair game? Satire has a long and mostly honourable tradition in political commentary but the line defining what’s tasteful is not easy to draw.

Similarly, in personal relationships, when is laughter is at another’s expense appropriate? Even if we’re not inclined to initiate it ourselves, it is very easy to get drawn into laughing at someone, either in their presence or behind their back. Often such banter is all part of friendly conversation about absent mutual acquaintances and some people positively enjoying having the mickey taken when they are there to give as good as they get. But there are other occasions when it doesn’t feel very loving.

Confucius’ rule that we should not do to others what we would not want them to do to us, is a useful guide. If today we find ourselves becoming part of the kind of laughter we’d be unhappy to have directed at us, perhaps we should find ways of extricating ourselves from involvement in it. There are many other ways of having fun.