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It’s high noon at Harborview’s View Park. Tita Begashaw lifts her arms as wide as the smile on her face and encourages the dozen people gathered around her to laugh away their troubles and woes.

“When we laugh, we don’t stress. We’re in the moment,” she says. “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is the gift of the present moment!”

The biweekly meeting of the Tee Hee Hee Laughter group is officially underway. For nearly an hour, Begashaw leads coworkers, patients, friends and at least one stranger in the practice of “laughter yoga.” It’s a workout like traditional yoga, but it trades poses for different types of guffaws, giggles and titters.

The exercises and laughs come fast and furious at View Park. The group cackles like movie villains one moment, and in the next everyone clinks imaginary cocktail glasses and chuckles with contentment. Members chime in with their own ideas for exercises: Tom, a regular, invites the group to chortle as they pretend to rip off pesky warning tags on imaginary pillows.

The group has been laughing it up at Harborview for 16 years. Begashaw, a patient services specialist, has attended since day one. To her, laughter’s value is obvious. It brings joy.

“There are two kinds of emotions in life: negative and positive,” she says. “Which way do you want to go?”

There was a time when she couldn’t answer right away. Begashaw was born in Ethiopia and moved to the U.S. in 1988. Her younger brother and cousin soon followed. Several years later, her cousin murdered her brother.

Begashaw was devastated. To keep depression at bay, she decided she had to get out and help others. In 1995 she started to volunteer at Harborview by helping recent immigrants navigate the healthcare system. It turned into a full-time role in 1999.

In 2001, she visited her cousin in jail to ask him why. Days later, she saw a flyer in Harborview about the newly formed Tee Hee Hee Laughter group. She lit up. Laughter was one of the core values of the church she had started attending.

She went and was immediately hooked. The meetings helped immensely with healing her grief. The next year, she became certified as a laughter yoga instructor.

Tita Begashaw working at Harborview's Information Desk

Besides teaching at Harborview, Begashaw has been a laughter yoga instructor at nursing homes, corporations such as Boeing, and the UW School of Nursing. Her message is always the same: Laughter is as fundamental as breathing. But sometimes people need to be reminded to do it.

After the group’s meeting, Begashaw periodically stops to greet a colleague with a hug as she walks back to Harborview’s Information Desk. “There are so many amazing, good-hearted people in this hospital,” she says. “This is why we’re here: to share goodness with humankind. I try to share my part every day.”

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