I was at the Tony Bennett concert at the Marquee in Cork last Thursday night and it rained all evening. We had our tea in the city before the gig and got absolutely soaked returning to the car. Fortunately, your average Tony Bennett fan is not the angry type and, despite the line of traffic and the dismal conditions, we were calmly directed to a parking spot without too much drama and in plenty of time. Then of course there was another puddle avoiding adventure as we made our way into the tent. I really hate that damp feeling and “Eau de wet hair” has never appealed. I was also wearing sandals as it had been a pleasant afternoon in Waterford. Exposed feet and muddy puddles are a bad mix. The rain didn’t let up and was even leaking through the roof of the big top and consistently dripping onto the stage. As we sat in our seats I hoped the performance would be worth the trouble.

The concert opened with Antonia Bennett (daughter) who sang four or five forgettable songs before her father appeared. While she could hold a note, there was nothing remarkable about her at all. Somehow she came across as smug and, at best, she was average. I thought it was just me being overly critical when a twinkly eyed Cork woman sitting beside me leaned into my ear and said: “I see she’s got her mother’s voice.” It was funny and for that moment my cold, soggy feet, dripping hair and this irritating woman on the stage faded away. I felt the muscles in my face break into a smile and I was suddenly glad to be there. A simple smile changed my whole demeanour.

Benefits of laughter

The benefits of laughter have long been known. Laughter relaxes the whole body and studies have shown that a good laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. It boosts the immune system because when we laugh we release happy chemicals from the brain that decrease stress hormones and increase immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. These happy chemicals are endorphins which promote an overall sense of well being and some even claim that endorphins can temporarily relieve pain.

Laughter also protects the heart, improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

Many people feel guilty about humour or laughter, particularly if they are going through a difficult time. I often think it is very unfair when pictures appear of smiling or laughing celebrities when they are supposedly splitting up, mourning or in some kind of trouble. They are often portrayed as unfeeling or uncaring which is probably not the case at all. These are moments that bring relief to the suffering of a human being regardless of their status and for us to judge is fundamentally wrong. As humans we have the ability to separate thoughts and it’s alright to laugh; indeed we often need to.

In recent years my own family was affected by a horrible tragedy. We were on the periphery, but it resonated deeply and I remember my parents being deeply upset. I gave them a box set of the comedy series Worst Week. It’s a contemporary English piece based on the comedy pillars of misunderstandings and mistakes. It’s hilarious. They watched an episode each night before going to bed and my mother couldn’t get over how it lifted the mood and helped them to sleep. Were they any less concerned or upset over what had happened? Of course not but it took their minds off everything and it was much healthier than drugs.

Laughter just makes us feel good. I love that feeling of remembering an incident and laughing all over again out loud.

Laughing on a train

I was involved in a funny incident in Dublin and cried with the laughter all the way home on the train. I’d pull myself together but inevitably the scene would break through my thoughts and I’d skit all over again. I’m sure the other passengers thought I was a nut, but hopefully I was just contagious. They say that just hearing laughter primes the brain and readies you to smile and join in the fun.

If you haven’t laughed in a long time then try smiling as a small step in the right direction. Many people just don’t bother smiling anymore. When did you last smile? And it’s an easy rut to slip into given that the world has become quite a serious place to be. We should be more like children. Normal kids laugh often and with abandon. They are unaware of being watched and have no fear of being considered silly or immature. I often have to remind myself to lighten up when I see kids tearing noisily around a supermarket or shop. They’re loud, disruptive and usually shrieking with delight at their boredom breaking game of tag. My first reaction is sometimes annoyance until I hear that little voice in my head say, “Lighten up you po-faced old bag!” I react quickly to that and have to stop myself from joining in the game to prove the voice wrong. The last thing I want to become is old and intolerant of noise, children and, particularly laughter.

Now this train of thought all started with Tony Bennett, so I’ll finish with him. He was fantastic and yes his voice is still in excellent condition even though he is now into his eighties. He is an inspiration to us all and strangely one of the best numbers he did on Thursday night was the old Charlie Chaplin song, Smile. And apart from I left My Heart in San Francisco it was the one song that the audience knew all the words to as well. “Smile though your heart is aching, Smile even though it’s breaking, When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by. If you smile through your fear and sorrow Smile and maybe tomorrow, You’ll see the sun come shining through. If you just smile.” Sing along now, everyone.