Babies are born with limited control of their body and no way to meet their basic needs independently. They are unable to speak the language of their family, yet their mere survival depends on social connection.
While infants cannot speak to us, they do have a way to connect: laughter. A baby’s first laugh has been considered a momentous occasion. According to Aristotle, laughter is what separates humans from other beings, and a baby’s first laugh is evidence that it has acquired a soul. In the Navajo culture, the first laugh marks the infant’s transition from the spirit realm into the human world.
Dr. Casper Addyman, director of the Infant Lab at Goldsmiths, University of London, describes why laughter is so important and breaks it down into four aspects, which he calls “truths.” He points out that babies know these truths, which we, as adults, may have forgotten. In fact, babies laugh an average of 300 times per day, while adults only laugh 20 times. It seems that babies know something we don’t.
Dr. Addyman points out that we laugh the most with people whom we love. The first thing babies know is unconditional love. We do not criticize an infant for having needs – we meet them. This absolute love and acceptance are not often experienced at any other time in life. Back-and-forth exchanges between caregivers and infants help to strengthen this connection.
One of the most iconic ways to engage in a back-and-forth exchange with a baby is peek-a-boo. This may be the first conversation in which the baby is an equal partner. They cannot communicate with words, but their laughter is as valuable as speaking.
The second truth Dr. Addyman mentions is that all humans are essentially the same. Studies have shown that children laugh more when in the company of others. This connection with another can occur regardless of whether the children know each other. In one study, preschool children were observed watching a cartoon. The subjects laughed seven times more often when in the company of another child than when they were by themselves.
Similarly, adults laugh 30 times more often when in the presence of others. Even laughing gas won’t cause a person to laugh if they are not in the company of others. It does not matter what language someone speaks, or if they have not acquired language at all, everyone understands laughter. Laughter is universal.
Addyman states that “the third truth is truth itself.” He goes on to explain that babies are constantly seeking new knowledge and skills. They are always in search of new “truths.” Dr. Addyman says the happiest people are ones who are always challenging themselves. This perfectly describes infants. Babies are born with no knowledge of the world around them, yet they continue to explore how it works. They constantly engage in activities that are unknown and, likely, scary. However, these little scientists keep exploring and experimenting, trying to make sense of the world around them.
The last truth Dr. Addyman points out about babies is that they do not spend time seeking happiness, they are just happy. He says babies live in the moment, they are not worried about what is going to happen next. Babies are able to experience what is happening right now. This ability to live in the moment may be why babies can just be happy.
All humans are wired to seek connection. Michael Platt, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said, “This social behavior is a critical part of our adaptive toolkit. It allows us to come together and do things that we wouldn’t be able to do on our own.”
Babies have the ability to overcome their lack of verbal language with laughter. It has been said that a smile is the same in every language, thus laughter can connect us all.
Dione Morgan, MA, ECSE, is the Child Find coordinator for the Buena Vista area, Circle of Security parent facilitator and vice chairperson of the Chaffee County Early Childhood Council.