Laughter filled Gate A10 of the Pittsburgh International Airport as I exited the moving walkway. It was late January and I distinctly remember being tired and cold and done with winter.
Hearing the glee echo through the cavernous terminal warmed my heart.
It’s not often you hear those sounds in an airport terminal – far away from the eruptions of joyous reunions in places like baggage claim and curbside pick-ups.
This kind of infectious laughter can only be described as rowdy squeals, snorts and happy tears. Someone lets out an unexpected laugh so genuine, so pure, so hearty that everyone soon joins in with a laugh or, at the very least, a smile.
These laughs weren’t caused by a reunion, or the anticipation of a great adventure, or giddiness brought on by a few too many drinks from the restaurant adjacent to our gate.
What fueled this amusement was nothing more than a social media post; a video, to be precise. That’s it.
How we got to that point, however, is what really strengthened my hope in humanity.
A 20-something young man clad in black sweatpants, a LeBron James jersey, black flip-flops and white socks was mindlessly scanning his social media feeds. “I was bored,” he told me in the aftermath of the laughter.
“I had my sound up, and when I scrolled over that video, it was probably a little too loud. She heard it and started laughing. Like really laughing.”
The “she” he was referring to was a wonderfully gregarious woman, 70-something (my best guess), and just as pleasant as the best grandma image you can muster.
She was sitting beside him, waiting to board the plane, minding her own business, and – as he recalled – she just reacted to the sound of a baby laughing on the video and “looked at my phone to see what was making so much noise.”
The video was of a bright-eyed baby, sitting mid-floor, being playfully circled by the family dog. It was almost as if the dog knew it was entertaining the baby – clearly taking the laughter as a sign of approval.
“When she saw it, she was just laughing so hard, I gave her my phone so she could see it closer,” he said. “But then she started laughing louder, and everyone around us did too,” he added.
We weren’t laughing at her. We weren’t laughing at the video. We were laughing with her and the pure joy she exuded.
She handed the phone back to the young man and simply said, “Thank you. I needed that.”
“I think everyone needed that,” he replied.
This laughter contagion creates the kind of connection to others we need today more than ever (yes, even strangers in an airport), to celebrate moments that connect through happiness – albeit with a little help from an entertaining video.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.