Tip/Thought of the Day

Laughing Really Is Great Medicine

I remember seeing the original Mary Poppins on the big screen for the first time. As a little girl, I was in awe of the sights, sounds, dancing, and music, all exploding around me. It was incredible. Of course that’s the only way we saw movies then, there was no re- release on TV or cable. No DVD’s to purchase. Back then it came and then went, period. I was so excited as a mother to introduce my daughter to all my childhood favorites only to find they held little interest. They were just plain old! They didn’t have the pizazz and technology of modern movies. Just thoughts, words and the actors abilities to help us to envision the world they were creating.

Disney studios has updated Mary a Poppins a couple of times, but in the original, there’s a wonderful scene where she takes the children to a friend’s house who needs help. He’s laughing so hard he’s risen to the ceiling and can’t get down. Of course it’s infectious and before you know it they’re all laughing uncontrollably on the ceiling too! That’s how I see laughing. It’s infectious and travels through groups like wildfire. Once begun, the feeling is so wonderful it can’t be stopped!

Like the song says:

We love to laugh

Loud and long and clear

We love to laugh

So everybody can hear

The more you laugh

The more you fill with glee

And the more the glee

The more we’re a merrier we.

Just the act of laughing provides powerful benefits. Sure, it’s fun to share a good laugh. But did you know it can actually improve your health?

Laughter lets you:

  • Be more spontaneous- Humor gets you out of your head and away from your troubles.
  • Let go of defensiveness- Laughter helps you forget resentments, judgments, criticisms, and doubts.
  • Release inhibitions- Your fear of holding back is pushed aside.
  • Express your true feelings- Deeply felt emotions are allowed to rise to the surface.

It’s true, laughter is strong medicine. It draws people together in ways that trigger healthy physical and emotional changes in the body. Laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and protects you from the damaging effects of stress. As children, we used to laugh hundreds of times a day, but as adults, life tends to be more serious, and laughter infrequent. By seeking out more opportunities for humor and laughter, you can improve your emotional health, strengthen your relationships, find greater happiness—and even add years to your life! All within your grasp at any moment, everyday.

Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hope, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert. It also helps you release anger and forgive sooner.

Laughter makes you feel good: And this positive feeling remains with you even after the laughter subsides. Humor helps you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss.

More than just a respite from sadness and pain, laughter gives you the courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope. Even in the most difficult of times, a laugh–or even simply a smile–can go a long way toward making you feel better. Laughter really is contagious, just hearing laughter primes your brain and makes you want to smile and join in the fun.

Laughter relaxes the whole body: A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. It helps you to relax and recharge. By reducing stress and increasing energy, it enables you to stay focused and accomplish more.

Laughter can stimulate your mind: Cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Scott Weems gave tasks to several groups of participants- those who watched a comedic video, those who engaged in light exercise and those who did neither. The participants who did neither answered two fewer questions than those who watched the comedy video, and those who exercised only performed slightly better. From this, Dr. Weems stated, “Comedy is like mental exercise, and just as physical exercise strengthens the body, comedy pumps up the mind.”

Laughter boosts the immune system: Some research has shown that laugher may increase the number of infection-fighting antibodies and boost immune cells. Likewise, positive thoughts and feelings, such as those released with laughter, have the potential to release neuropeptides, which help fight illness and stress. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, improving your resistance to disease. So next time that cold won’t go away add a comedic movie to the alka seltzer.

Laughter triggers the release of endorphins: Endorphins are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals and promote an overall sense of well-being. Laughter can even temporarily relieve pain by releasing natural pain killers which may relieve pain caused by muscle disorders by interfering with the “pain-spasm” cycle. A 2011 study conducted by researchers from Oxford University showed that the more subjects laughed, the less pain they felt. The study also suggests that it’s laughter itself, not just positive emotions, that aids in pain relief. (see more in Friday’s post).

Laughter relieves stress: A study from 2008 found that when anticipating laughter, subjects experienced lower levels of three stress hormones: cortisol, epinephrine and dopac. The anticipation of laughter reduced these hormones by 39 percent, 70 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

Laughter protects the heart: Laughter can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. In fact, two separate studies found that laughter improves the flow of blood through the body’s arteries, thus reducing blood pressure as well as subjects’ risk of heart disease. Most amazingly, one of the studies found that watching a funny movie improved blood pressure “for a full 24 hours” after the program was viewed. The other study discovered that, not only do humorous programs improve dilation of the arteries, but that watching depressing programs is actually harmful to our blood vessels.

Laughter burns calories: OK, so it’s no replacement for going to the gym, but one study found that laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day can burn approximately 40 calories—which could be enough to lose three or four pounds over the course of a year!

Laughter lightens distressing emotions: You can’t feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing. And nothing diffuses anger and conflict quicker than a shared laugh. Looking at the funny side can put problems into perspective and enable you to move on from confrontations without holding onto bitterness or resentment.

Laughter may even help you to live longer: A study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humor outlived those who don’t laugh as much. The difference was particularly notable for those battling cancer.

Laughter improves sleep: In a 2011 study, more than 100 participants with depression and insomnia were split into two groups: a control group and a laughter therapy group. Compared to the control group, those in laughter therapy saw statistically significant improvements in depression, insomnia, and sleep quality. This suggests that the laughter may be more powerful than anyone thought—helping to boost mood and relaxation and improve sleep.

Laughter shifts perspective: Laughter allows you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and diffuse conflict.

Laughter draws you closer to others: The consequences of which can have a profound effect on all aspects of your mental and emotional health. Laughter is an especially powerful tool for managing conflict and reducing tension when emotions are running high. Whether with romantic partners, friends and family, or co-workers, laughter can lower everyone’s stress level, and help to communicate in ways that builds up relationships rather than breaking them down.

There’s a good reason why TV sitcoms use laugh tracks: laughter is contagious. You’re many times more likely to laugh around other people than when you’re alone. And the more laughter you bring into your own life, the happier you and those around you will feel.

Sharing humor is half the fun, in fact, most laughter doesn’t come from hearing jokes, but rather simply from spending time with friends and family. It’s this social aspect that plays such an important role in laughter’s health benefits. You can’t enjoy a laugh with other people unless you take the time to really engage with them. When you care about someone enough to switch off your devices and really connect face to face, you’re engaging in a process that re-balances the nervous system and puts the brakes on defensive stress responses like “fight or flight”. If you share a laugh as well, you’ll both feel happier, more positive, and more relaxed, even if you’re unable to alter a stressful situation.

Shared laughter is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. All emotional sharing builds strong and lasting relationship bonds. Sharing laughter also adds joy, vitality, and resilience. Humor is a powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Laughter unites people during difficult times.

How to bring more laughter into your life:

Laughter is your birthright, a natural part of life that is innate and inborn. Infants begin smiling during the first weeks of life and laugh out loud within months of being born. Even if you did not grow up in a household where laughter was a common sound, you can learn to laugh at any stage of life.

Begin by setting aside special times to seek out humor and laughter, as you might with exercising, and build from there. Eventually, you’ll want to incorporate humor and laughter into the fabric of your life, finding it naturally in everything.

Here are some ways to start:

Smile: Smiling is the beginning of laughter, and like laughter, it’s contagious. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling. Instead of looking down at your devices, look up and smile at people you pass in the street, the person serving you a morning coffee, or the co-workers you share an elevator with. Notice the effect on others.

Count your blessings: Literally make a list. The simple act of considering the positive aspects of your life will distance you from negative thoughts that block humor and laughter. When you’re in a state of sadness, you have further to travel to reach humor and laughter.

When you hear laughter, move toward it: Sometimes humor and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but usually not. More often, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask, “What’s funny?”.

Spend time with fun, playful people: These are people who laugh easily–both at themselves and at life’s absurdities–and who routinely find the humor in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter are contagious. Even if you don’t consider yourself a lighthearted, humorous person, you can still seek out people who like to laugh and make others laugh. Every comedian appreciates an audience.

Bring humor into conversations: Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?”

Simulated laughter:

So, what if you really can’t “find the funny?” Believe it or not, it’s possible to laugh without experiencing a funny event—and simulated laughter can be just as beneficial as the real thing. It can even make exercise more fun and productive. A Georgia State University study found that incorporating bouts of simulated laughter into an exercise program helped improve older adults’ mental health as well as their aerobic endurance. Plus, hearing others laugh, even for no apparent reason, can often trigger genuine laughter.

To add simulated laughter into your own life, search for laugh yoga or laugh therapy groups. Or you can start simply by laughing at other people’s jokes (as long as they aren’t offensive), even if you don’t find them funny. Both you and the other person will feel good, it will draw you closer together, and who knows, it may even lead to some spontaneous laughter.

With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource for surmounting problems, enhancing your relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health. Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free, easy to use and tastes good. It’s no joke, when it comes to improving out health , more giggles and guffaws are just what the doctor ordered.

Always find a reason to laugh. It may not add years to your life, but will surely add life to your years. -Mehul Shah

dsc_0323-1    Dr. Courtney








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