Mankind has two attributes that set it apart from all other species. They are laughter and singing. I’m not sure which came first, but both originate when we are just babies.
The unmistakable giggle of a 2-year-old when they find something funny puts a warm place in our hearts. It is the first recognition that something that happened wasn’t quite right and they realize it was a mistake that could have been avoided. Or perhaps it was the antics of an adult done purposely to invoke laughter. When they are just months old, we tickle the tummies of our babies to evoke an acknowledgment from them. When we get even the slightest grin from their lips, we grin back and thus reinforce the action.
Why do we do this? I suspect we do it because it makes us feel good too. It also strengthens the bond between the baby and us.
As young parents, we can hardly wait until our baby makes its first pleasant sounds — then a few years later it seems they will never shut up. Without vocal cords, how would the animal world survive and learn? Upon birth, the baby cries to tell us something is amiss and, “Would someone do something to make it all right?”
Laughter, on the other hand, is an entirely different emotion. We laugh because we think it’s funny and we don’t want it to stop. Laughter makes us feel good. I remember laughing so hard that I couldn’t get my breath — even though other people around didn’t particularly think whatever was funny at all. Nevertheless whenever we see a group of people laughing we immediately want to join in. Probably this has been the same even before we started to live in agrarian groups, just as primeval is the action of singing.
Singing has a way of bringing us together. Songs usually are a way of telling a message. I remember reading about the minstrels who traveled from one town or hamlet to another to spread the word of the latest happenings. It was a form of communications that was effective, drawing a crowd who all heard the same message while being entertained by the music.
Today, music has much the same role, only now we have the written word (and most people are literate) plus all the digital or instant messages of what is happening.
Have you ever caught yourself singing a particular hymn on the way home from church? Or get a tune stuck in your head that you heard on the radio? Like laughter singing is introduced at an early age. We play nursery rhymes to get our young ones to go the sleep. As adults, we still can recall the words to most of these tunes.
I have often marveled at how various musicians can remember the words (and music) to so many songs. Yet I remember when I was in the fourth grade I had to sing a solo in front of a crowd at a school gathering. The song “I’m Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover” is still burned into my memory.
This season, more than any other, familiar songs seem to be floating through the air. I cannot go anywhere in my vehicle without humming or singing one of these songs. It is a joyous time of the year. Regardless of your religious persuasion, singing brings us all together. As I am writing this I am thinking: Peace on Earth and good will to all men.
Singing is a universal language; it strikes a cord in all of us. We laugh and sing not to gain anything from such activities but only to make us feel good. So laugh and sing your heart out — it’s good medicine.