baby laughter
Photo by Deedee Geli on Unsplash

Before there are words, there is laughter. Babies make gigglefests look easy. They laugh at everything from traffic jams, to dogs and cats, to mommy and daddy tying their shoes. No punchline necessary. LOLs abound.

As sweet as it is, a mystery still remains. Exactly why do babies laugh?

Developmental psychologist Caspar Addyman aims to answer this question. And he takes his job very seriously, tirelessly conducting experiments to study human behavior. His subjects? Babies. His research? Laughter. That's right. Someone spends all day listening to the innocent giggles of small children. Arguably the best job in the world, second to petting cats.

Addyman's baby laughter studies have inspired some other innovative and creative projects, such as the Shake, Rattle, and Roll (play specifically made for babies to make them laugh) or Imogen Heap's Happy Song, which she collaborated with Addyman on. And though his research was making headlines a year ago, it's once again going viral. Because his findings are simple, heartwarming and profound.

Collecting parents' observations of their baby's laughter—ages ranging from newborn to 2.5 years old—Addyman would ask when the baby's first laugh was, if mommy or daddy was funnier and if certain toys inspired more chuckles than another. Through his worldwide studies, Addyman gained these insights:


Peekaboo is the ultimate funny.

baby laughter study Photo by tian dayong on Unsplash

To no parent's surprise, peekaboo is a never-ending barrel of laughs. But what about it is so funny? One of the reasons, according to Addyman, is that babies have no concept of time. So each time mommy or daddy magically disappears, it comes as a shock. Then when the beloved parent comes back, the surprise is a riot. But the fun doesn't stop there. As babies develop a sense that a mom or dad will come back, the game evolves into delightful anticipation. That's why even 2-year-olds still find peekaboo amusing.

Tickling is the second contender.

why do babies laugh Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash

Though this one has the bonus of physical stimulus, the most important factor is the social context. Which is why receiving a tickle from a stranger is terrifying, where a tickle from mommy is welcomed and hilarious. Addyman says that tickling also developed from an even older communication ritual: "Tickling has deep evolutionary roots that come from being a mammal. It's partly related to grooming, a vital function that is also pleasurable." Tickling, like grooming, is a one-on-one trust-building experience.

When it comes to laughter, the more the merrier.

scientist studies baby laughter Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

When a cartoon played to a group of preschoolers, they laughed eight times more than when that same cartoon played in front of a single preschooler, alone. This implied that laughter is primarily a social tool of communication. "It's a genuine signal that you send when you're in a relaxed and comfortable situation," Addyman says in his interview with TED. He noted that even the preschoolers who watched the cartoon alone would often look toward the researchers during the funny bits. Laughter gives us a sense of belonging.

Freud was wrong.

baby laughter ted talk Photo by Juan Encalada on Unsplash

Babies do not instinctively find joy in another's pain. Addyman's studies showed that babies were more likely to laugh at themselves falling over, versus someone else. Schadenfreude, therefore, seems to be a concept we learn in adulthood to cope with the harsh realities of life, rather than something we're born with.

Mommy is no less funny than Daddy.

baby laughter science Photo by Seth Reese on Unsplash

Both mom and dad seemed to score equal amounts of funny points. However, parents also reported that their sons laughed close to 50 times a day, whereas their daughters seemed to only chuckle around 37 times. The divide, Addyman says, could be due to how the behavior is "reinforced by the parents … If you think your boy baby is laughing more, you may try to make them laugh more."

The key ingredient to laughter: LOVE.

science of laughter Photo by Daniel Thomas on Unsplash

"Happiness is greatest when we're with our loved ones," Addyman says. Human connection is far more impactful than a puppet or a toy. Hence the power of peekaboo. More than anything, a baby is looking for pure social interaction and undivided attention from their adult protectors. Their laughter is a way of having a heartfelt conversation.

Addyman admits that in a grown-up world, laughter might not come as easily. But he says the first step is to do what babies do: just be in the moment. "Babies laugh more than us because they take the time to look around," he says. Addyman thinks that a baby's pure, (literally) unadulterated laughter might be an expression of "flow," a term created by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to label that joyful state where you're so fully immersed in the present moment, you can't help but enter bliss. Considering how effortlessly a baby can reach joy, it seems he's onto something.


Plus his own studies are far from over. Next Addyman plans to explore how a baby's laughter plays a role in their learning process. There's still so much to learn, and laugh at.

By the way, you can watch Addyman's inspiring TEDxBratislava Talk on laughter via YouTube. It's great for all ages.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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1. Fair Trade Woven Dark Gray Alpaca Blend Scarf

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