If you combined Harper’s Index with its Findings section and dramatically lowered the research quality of both, you would get my mind after a good Internet k-hole. Here are all the things I learned this week.
On average, babies laugh 300 times a day. Adults laugh 20. If you laugh for 12 hours, you will lose one pound. There are 30 million Google hits for the phrase “laughter is the best medicine,” an idea that dates at least as far back as Biblical times (Proverbs 17:22: “A joyful heart is good medicine”) but whose modern usage is commonly attributed to Henry Ward Beecher, the nineteenth-century abolitionist preacher who wrote, “Mirth is God’s medicine—everybody ought to bathe in it.”
Born in 1813, Henry Ward Beecher was the eighth of thirteen children, two years younger than his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe. In America, first-born and only children are more likely to earn six-figure incomes and hold top executive positions. Catharine, the oldest sibling of the Beecher family, was engaged to a Yale mathematician who died in a shipwreck. After his death, she founded five women’s colleges and published dozens of books on the importance of education, but never believed that women should have the vote.
Henry Ward Beecher is said to have had “a passion for jewels, which he carried, unset, in his pockets, taking them out for comfort when he was tired or in low spirits.” Other animals that hoard shiny objects include raccoons, crows and magpies. “I know every single thing that I have. My photographic memory is getting better,” said Lindsay Lohan in a 2010 interview with The Insider that aired with the title “Celebrity Hoarder.” In 2011, Lohan was court-mandated to complete an anti-shoplifting class after she was caught stealing from a jewelry store. Magpies were once thought to be omens of the devil; in nineteenth-century England, the superstitious would salute a magpie when they saw it, then turn around in a circle three times.
Magpies mate for life. Black vultures also mate for life, discouraging infidelity by attacking members of their community who are caught cheating in public. In 1875, Henry Ward Beecher underwent a six-month public trial for adultery after being accused of having an affair with a married woman at his church. Last year, Lindsay Lohan made $300,000 for portraying Elizabeth Taylor over the course of her most public affair. Leviticus 20:10 says, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” After his reputed mistress was excommunicated from the church, Henry Ward Beecher continued to command thousands of worshipers each week at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Today, a third of Americans believe that every word of the Bible is literally true.
On average, public speakers out-laugh their audiences by around 50 percent. However, gender makes a big difference in these statistics: on average, when a woman speaks to a female audience, she laughs 70 percent more than her listeners do; she laughs twice as often when speaking to a room of men. When a man speaks to men, he laughs 20 percent more than his audience. When he speaks to women, he is out-laughed by 8 percent.
Laughter is healthy, but its benefits may also extend to other, similar activities. “It’s not really clear that the effects of laughter are different from screaming,” said a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland. In 1962, three girls at a missionary-run boarding school in modern-day Tanzania began laughing and couldn’t stop. Their symptoms spread to the majority of the pupils at the school and then to the surrounding villages. Over the next year, 14 schools were shut down and thousands were reported as affected by this epidemic, which “had nothing to do with humor,” according to a Purdue linguist. “There was no merriment,” he added. “There is no specific cause.”