By Lorie Swaydan, Huntsman World Senior Games
It has been said that “Laughter is the best medicine.” But is it? Taking medicine is intentional, but laughter often erupts spontaneously. Medicine usually requires an expertise in some sense - a prescription, government regulation, warning labels. But, anyone can laugh. Children, the uneducated - anyone! In fact, laughter is a universally human trait found in every culture. It doesn’t need to be taught but begins to appear in babies as young as a few months old. So what do laughter and medicine have in common? They both make us feel better.
Although scientists don’t completely understand what the brain is doing when we laugh, they know it has an impact on our bodies and thought patterns. And, it seems that those responses are good for us. In fact laughter has some of the same benefits as working out. Steve Wilson, a psychologist and laugh therapist says, “The effects of laughter and exercise are very similar.”
For example, just like exercise, laughter stimulates circulation. More blood is pumped to our organs including the heart, lungs and muscles. Laughing also causes the “stress response.” It increases oxygen flow, heart rate and blood pressure, then everything cools down and the body and mind are brought into a state of relaxation. Many people actually sigh after a good laugh. The reduction of stress may lead to an overall improvement in the immune system by increasing antibodies and activating T-cells. Furthermore, negative thoughts produce chemical reactions in the body which increase stress; by contrast, positive thoughts and laughter release neuropeptides that fight stress. Like exercise, laughter can lead to lower blood pressure,too. One study said that after watching something funny, our blood flow improves for as much as 24 hours. And, laughing heartily can even burn calories. Not a ton, but about 50 calories for every 15 minutes of raucous laughter.
We often think of laughter as a response to someone doing a comedy routine, but really laughter has more to do with relationships than jokes. It’s a way of communicating with others; it’s social and it’s contagious. Perhaps, that’s the best benefit of laughter. It can be used in embarrassing situations, to deflect conflict and lighten things up. Laughter helps us to connect to one another, and it helps us deal with the difficulties of life. Finally, let’s face it - laughing is just fun! And with all the serious problems we face as we age, maybe we should all strive to keep laughter as a top priority in our daily routine. After all, you remember what Maurice Chevalier famously said, “You don’t stop laughing because you grow older, you grow older because you stop laughing.”
Here are some suggestions for “flexing” your sense of humor muscles:
- Make a collection of cards, comic strips and humorous photos - display them in a place that is easily visible every day.
- Keep funny movies, videos and websites close at hand. Try to balance the serious with the light hearted.
- Learn to laugh at yourself. However, use good judgement. It’s never funny if it hurts or humiliates someone else.
- Get a good book of jokes and share them often. Even if they are silly. Nothing wrong with a little silliness.
- Try to find the humor in situations. As Dr. Seuss reminds us: From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!
Griffin, Morgan R. “Give Your Body a Boost - With Laughter.” https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter#1 WebMd 2020.
“Is Laughter the Best Medicine? What Mental Health Practitioners Know.” https://www.waldenu.edu/online-doctoral-programs/phd-in-psychology/resource/is-laughter-the-best-medicine-what-mental-health-practitioners-know Walden University 2020.
Provine, Robert PhD. “A Big Mystery: Why do We Laugh?” http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3077386/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/big-mystery-why-do-we-laugh/#.XokEfshKi70 May 27, 1999.
“Stress Relief from Laughter? It’s No Joke.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456 April, 05, 2019. Mayoclinic.org