GULF TIMES, 04.01.2014
Laughter world champ preaches joy at his school
By Julia Brakel
Laughter is certainly the best medicine for Belachew Girma, the unofficial world laughter master and founder of the first laughter school in Africa. Girma has not only managed to laugh continuously for an incredible three hours and six minutes, the 46-year-old Ethiopian now uses his unusual talent to help others learn how to deal with life’s slings and arrows in a more positive and constructive manner.

Having set his first unofficial world record at the Impossibility World Challenger Games in 2002, Girma has since beaten his own best mark twice, with the current record standing since 2008.
In 2011, Girma opened a laughter school in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where students can enroll on a one-month laughter course to help rediscover their natural state of happiness.

«I decided to go to the laughter school because I thought that I had lost my real and natural way of laughing due to the stress I experienced during my medical studies. I wanted it back,» says junior doctor Filmon Mengesha Kihshen.

Interestingly, the 28-year-old feels that he will not be the only beneficiary of his attendance at this unusual educational course. «The course will also help me in my work in the future when I am trying to help patients struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety.»

Insurance company employee Jagema Wami is another convert to the teachings of the laughter school. «Belachew Girma has had an enormously positive effect on my life,» says the 38-year-old father of three. «The laughter course was not only lots of fun, it has also made me much more confident when dealing with customers.»

It seems counter-intuitive that Africa’s first laughter school should open in one of the continent’s poorest countries but Girma is convinced that it is exactly in situations that seem hopeless and unmanageable where people need to nurture their joy for life. As a result, the laughter therapist also regularly gives free classes to orphan children in an attempt to raise their self-esteem.

Looking at Girma today, it is hard to believe that he has endured the tragedy of losing his first wife to Aids as well as having to overcome losing his business due to fire and flood accidents two years later.

Girma used alcohol and the local drug khat to try to numb the pain and even contemplated suicide at one point. «It was a difficult time for me when I felt lonely and socially isolated,» he explains. «The Bible and a book about human psychology were the catalysts for me changing my life, giving up on my addictions, facing life with new courage and rebuilding my self-confidence.»

A daily bout of whole-hearted laughter is now an intrinsic part of Girma’s routine. He is convinced that laughter is not only psychologically beneficial but that the therapy also reduces pain and prevents the progression of illness, a view that is partly backed up by scientific research into the area.

«Laughter has as one of its consequences that the level of stress hormones is reduced and blood cells that strengthen the body’s immune system are able to increase,» explains psychotherapist Michael Titze from the Academy of Individual Psychology in Switzerland. Titze is considered a pioneer into the medicinal benefits of laughter, which leads to the release of pain-killing hormones called endorphins.

Girma now travels across the globe, hosting workshops and giving demonstrations about how he has managed to change his life for the better through laughter. He is now happily married again and the proud father of five children.