“We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh.”
― William James, 19th century American philosopher, doctor, and psychologist
Patient Zero was riding the subway. Well, her name was Jessica Serow and she was neither sick nor very patient. If anything, she was impulsive which is why it was surprising that the whole chain of events started with her reading a book. A book! That alone would make anyone who knew her laugh, but it wasn’t what made her laugh. No, what made her chuckle was something she read. She was alone that day which is why she was reading in the first place. She knew better than to read in company.
(What it was that she read has been speculated wildly. Some say it was P.G. Wodehouse, others talk about an IKEA catalogue.)
She was almost alone in the car, which is important because had she been the only one in the car, nothing would have happened. Her cackle would have echoed inside the car, and then died there.
On the other hand, had the car been packed, most people wouldn’t have seen her, or they’d been too angry to respond or she might have been too self-conscious to even chuckle, she might have smiled at best. But, the car was half-empty (or half-full, depending on your point of view), and just the right person saw her laughing.
Mr. Right was standing next to the door, wearing headphones, deep in thought listening to a podcast about the Eighties. The podcast was fairly amusing and they just played his all-time favorite song (Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham!) so he was in a good mood and just as the train pulled into station, he saw the young lady laugh – and he laughed, too.
The two teenagers who got on the train saw Mr Right laugh and started to laugh themselves (before stepping inside the next car) while Mr Right kept on walking to street level. He was hungry. His walk was brisk, accentuated with short bursts of laughter all the way to the hot dog vendor who, already upon seeing him, had a huge grin on his face.
“A hot dog, with everything on it, please,” said Mr. Right. He thought of the girl on the train and he laughed again.
“What? What are you laughing at?” the hotdog vendor asked him, eager to join in.
“Oh, nothing special,” said Mr. Right, and then let out a chortle.
“Whaaaat? Come on!” said the hotdog guy, and started to laugh. And as he handed the hotdog to Mr. Right, they laughed so hard he couldn’t put any mustard on it. And that made them laugh even harder.
Meanwhile, Teen 1 had got off the subway (laughing) on his way to soccer practice. Teen 2 had promised to make dinner for her kid brother so she stayed on the train for four more stops (and three more laughs) and hurried home.
After Mr. Right walked back to his office, the hotdog vendor called his wife – just because – but before she answered, he had already forgot what it was he wanted to tell her, except that it was something funny, so he told her he just wanted to hear her voice and let out a nervous giggle. She giggled, and told him she wasn’t mad at him anymore so he shouldn’t worry but also that she should be going if she wanted to make it to the store and back in time for dinner.
And that’s how the laughter spread throughout the city. Teen 1 was late for practice but still, 18 of his 18 teammates (and the coach) guffawed at the sight of him sprinting to the field, laughing. That sent the laughter forward to a total of 108 people who sent it to 540 people who sent it to 2161 people who sent it to 17332 people! One of them was a European princess (for those who know European geography, she was from Sweden) and she happened to Skype her Dad which made the King of Sweden one of 103,999 people who got the laughter bug in that wave.
He, in turn, got so happy he went to the palace balcony and waved to his people, and for a short while, Sweden was the happiest nation on Earth.
Among the first 103,999 people were also the eleven who attended Mr. Right’s brainstorming session back at the office, the hot dog vendor’s next customer who then jumped onto a cab and went to the movies with her boyfriend. The cab driver had his best day, and didn’t even seem to hit a red light all day. There were chortles, snickers, and giggles everywhere. People everywhere were in stitches, holding their sides, slapping their knees, and rolling on the floor.
Later that day, when Patient Zero finally got to her destination – having missed her stop while reading and therefore riding the subway for almost 35 minutes longer than planned – she walked up the stairs and then headed to a grocery store to get some dinner.
At the checkout, she stood behind a lady who was chatting with the girl at the register. The lady turned around with a big smile on her face, and when she saw Patient Zero, they both started to laugh at the same time.
They laughed, and then the people in the line started to laugh.
“What are we laughing about?” Patient Zero whispered to the lady, out of breath.
The lady looked at her, letting out a couple of chuckles.
“You know … I don’t – I don’t know!” she exclaimed and they burst out laughing again.
By the close of day, Twitter’s shares had tumbled into an all-time low.