If the idea of a laughter club elicits a chuckle, good for you. Medical researchers are taking an increasingly serious view of the ways in which a positive outlook can impact people’s health.
Time magazine devoted a cover story to the subject, which mentioned Baum’s group.
And while they’re still relatively scarce in the United States, laughter clubs have caught on elsewhere. Founded in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria, a Mumbai physician and entrepreneur, the clubs are built around laughter yoga, a series of specific techniques designed to make participants laugh, and thus reduce stress. One news service estimates more than 3,500 such clubs exist globally.
The Bethany group started in 2000. In the sessions, participants may pretend they’re riding a rollercoaster or imagine they’re angry, then laugh the feeling away. “Our activities director read about laughter yoga and contacted a guy from Europe,” Baum says. “She approached us about starting a club. And it really took off. It’s wonderful stuff.”
So wonderful that Baum’s staff decided not to keep all the fun to themselves. Bethany sponsors a weekly laughter club for fourth graders at a nearby elementary school. “Some of the kids end up with an adopted grandparent here,” Baum says.
For all of his enthusiasm, Baum himself isn’t a member of the laughter club. “I make a fool of myself in plenty of other situations—that’s no problem,” he says. “I don’t need a special time of the day. But I’m so proud of what we do. You don’t walk in and feel like you’re in a nursing home. People enjoy themselves here. It’s not just a happy place. It’s a good place.”