Born into Nazi Germany, Thurid Downey can't remember a whole lot of laughter during her younger years.
But the organiser of the Wollongong Laughing Club - which held its inaugural meeting yesterday - has always felt that laughter is the best panacea for many of life's ills.
She was joined by a bunch of like-minded people at the band stand in Wollongong's Market Square at 11.30am yesterday.
It may have been a grey old day, but the participants' colourful hats and infectious laughter brightened up the public garden and brought a smile to the faces of passersby.
"One person laughs, and many people will laugh," Ms Downey said. "I believe laughter is very healthy - physically, it lowers stress and triggers the release of endorphins which make you feel good, and, mentally, it increases feelings of happiness."
Life has not always been merry for Ms Downey.
"I was born into Nazi Germany and grew up in Communist Germany before I escaped to the west when I was 19," she said.
"There was not a great deal of laughter when I was growing up."
Ms Downey, a Wollongong resident of 46 years, has wanted to start a laughing club in the region for some years, and decided to take the plunge this year.
"Our club will involve bringing along a plate of food, a funny hat to suit the mood, and a funny story or a joke. We'll be laughing our troubles away."
Otford resident Karen Lane, who runs a writers' boot camp attended by Ms Downey and encouraged her to start the club, plans to share in the laughter.
"Laughing just feels so good," she said. "I'm always telling participants in the writers' bootcamp that they need to get out and have more fun to help with their writing - and Thurid has certainly taken that on board."
The club will be held on the first Sunday of each month - "rain, hail or shine" - and everyone is welcome.