In 'Animal Joy,' Nuar Alsadir explores the nature of laughter In Animal Joy, poet and psychoanalyst Nuar Alsadir explores the nature of laughter and how it can tap into our unconscious.

A book on laughter and how it brings out our most authentic selves

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Scientists say laughter helps us. It benefits the body by releasing endorphins and increasing blood flow. The poet and psychoanalyst Nuar Alsadir says it also brings out our most authentic selves. She writes about that in a new book that's out today called "Animal Joy: A Book Of Laughter And Resuscitation." NPR's Jeevika Verma has more.

JEEVIKA VERMA, BYLINE: When Nuar Alsadir went to clown school, she learned something that surprised her.

NUAR ALSADIR: The audience tended to laugh not when something was humorous, but when it was honest.

VERMA: She wasn't there for a career change. She was researching laughter as a psychoanalyst.

ALSADIR: And going out into the world to comedy clubs, improv shows, to really listen to the audience and hear when the audience laughed.

VERMA: When she took the stage at clown school, people were most moved when she spoke about something that was meaningful to her.

ALSADIR: And so counterintuitively, it's not what you say. It's the emotion that you access in yourself as you're delivering it that is going to reach other people.

VERMA: Alsadir has turned her research into a book called "Animal Joy." The title pulls from something she read in Chekhov's notebook.

ALSADIR: The so-called pure, childlike joy of life is animal joy

VERMA: For Alsadir, this is the highest joy.

ALSADIR: It's when we're most embodied and we're most inside of our true selves, our spontaneous selves.

VERMA: The poet points to two kinds of laughter - Duchenne and non-Duchenne laughter, named after the 19th century French neurologist who studied the ways we show our emotions.

ALSADIR: Duchenne laughter is the full-bodied outburst that overtakes you. The unconscious is suddenly released into the room like a wild animal.

(LAUGHTER)

VERMA: You don't necessarily know why, but you can't stop. It can make your stomach cramp and tears run down your cheeks.

(LAUGHTER)

ALSADIR: The other kind of laughter, which is actually the most common form, is called non-Duchenne. And that kind of laughter is social laughter.

(LAUGHTER)

VERMA: It's less of an outburst and more intellectual, normally used to control interactions.

ALSADIR: You're letting someone know that they're safe. You're happy to see them. It's a friendly interaction.

VERMA: It can also be used strategically, to cushion something blunt or critical you're about to say. It's Duchenne laughter that Alsadir is more interested in because it brings out our spontaneous impulses.

ALSADIR: When you are in touch with your true self, you feel more alive, more present. And that feeling is one of the best feelings there is.

VERMA: The poet wants her book to lead readers to that feeling, which she describes as nothing short of resuscitation.

Jeevika Verma, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARCO BENEVENTO'S "ILA FROST")

INSKEEP: Did you not want to laugh when you heard that laughter?

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