Ask yourself, when was the last time that you laughed so hard that your cheeks filled with lactic acid until they hurt? You rocked back and forth giving your abdominals a better workout than if they were visiting the gym? Your eyes watered and you had to do a loud sigh so that you could actually take a deep breath to flood your body with oxygen again? How did you feel afterwards?? Pretty good I’d say!!
Laughter is infectious – far more contagious than any cough, yawn, sniffle, or sneeze. It also triggers healthy physical changes in the body – strengthening your immune system, boosting your energy, diminishing pain and protecting you from the damaging effects of stress. The benefits also remain with you even after the laughter subsides. Laughter energises emotional and mental health too by triggering the release of endorphins – the body’s own natural opiates and ‘feel good’ pain relieving hormones – the ones also released during exercise (’runners high’) and childbirth. Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free, easy to use and it makes you feel good too!
So why don’t we use it more?? Stress is the number one obstacle to health in today’s fast paced world and laughter is nature’s physiological polar opposite. Humour works quickly, half a second after exposure to something funny, electrical waves move through the cerebral cortex higher brain functions to engage the whole brain. It’s where joyful emotions meet mind, spirit and body, putting us intensely ‘in the moment’. It is a well known saying “Laughter is the best medicine” and its healing effects have been well known throughout the ages. This is still evident today at Starship Children’s Hospital using clowns as laughter medicine for the precious children housed in its wards.
Attracting laughter into your life
Laughter is our birthright. 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 cultivate laughter at any stage of life. The more you invite laughter into your life the easier it becomes.
Creating opportunities to laugh: Watch a funny movie or TV show, goof around with children, read the funny pages, seek out funny people, share a good joke or an amusing story, check out the library or bookstore’s humour section, play interactive games with friends (Pictionary anyone?), go to a comedy club (or watch online), do something silly, make the time for fun activities (bowling? Mini golf? Karaoke? Paint Ball?) and research strongly suggesting getting a pet! There are even 60 countries around the world where you can attend a “laughter yoga” class!
So how do you develop a sense of humour?? Begin by setting aside special times to seek out humour and laughter, as you would with an exercise programme, and build from there.
Here are some ways to start: practise smiling, count your blessings (when you are in a state of sadness you have further to travel to access a good giggle), when you hear laughter move towards it, spend time with fun playful people (it’s contagious), bring humour into conversations (ask “what’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? … this week? … in your life?”), access guided laughing meditations on the web, take yourself less seriously, keep things in perspective (many things in life are beyond your control), deal with your stress (a major obstacle to laughter), also surround yourself with reminders to lighten up – wear ridiculously bright pink undies and stupid socks. Choose a computer screensaver that makes you laugh. Frame photos of you and your family or friends having crazy fun!
Enjoying engaging with children – they are the experts after all on playing, taking life lightly, and laughing! They have a lot to teach us if we only gift them the time they deserve.
Times when laughter is not appropriate
Of course, it goes without saying that some events are clearly sad and not occasions for laughter. But most events in life don’t fall into the extreme zones of either sadness or delight, but rather into the gray zone – giving you the choice to laugh or not.
Overcoming challenges with humour
Life has it shares of ups and downs but laughter – or even a smile – is a powerful tool to cultivate a positive, optimistic outlook through even the most difficult situations. It dissolves distressing emotions and builds self confidence. Regular practice of laughter helps reprogram negative responses into positive ones; those with short-tempers can learn to control their moods and defuse their anger by laughing it out. It encourages you to be more spontaneous, to let go of defensiveness, release your inhibitions and to express your true feelings.
Laughing with others is more powerful than laughing alone
Laughter binds people together. You soon stop laughing if you are alone. So much of our attitude about life and our ability to meet life’s challenges depends on the quality of the relationships we have. Laughters primary goal seems to be bringing people together. It establishes – or restores – a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between people, the brains of speaker and listener become synchronised and emotionally attuned. This bond acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements and hurts, uniting people during difficult times. Laughter in relationships declines dramatically as people age.
One of the best ways to generate laughter – perhaps the most ancient way – is by tickling! You cannot tickle yourself and children love it but tickling declines dramatically as we age. So the next time you have an argument, don’t walk out of the room and slam the door, perhaps try tickling them instead!
(P.S Most ticklish areas, in descending order: underarms, waist, ribs, feet, knees, neck, palms… just so you know 😉
Laughter is powerful medicine
Researchers have studied laughter’s effects on the body, mind and emotions:
– Relieves Stress: Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are reduced. Immune, digestive & sexual systems that are switched off by stress are switched on.
– Cardiovascular support: laughter protects the heart – blood pressure lowers, heart rate drops, the function of blood vessels and blood flow improves.
– Boosts immunity: Feeling rundown? Try laughing more. Humour strengthens the immune response of anti-viral and anti-infection cells (including the “natural-killer” cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells which help fight cancer); IgA levels increase – the first line of defense protecting us against viral infections such as coughs and colds.
– Promotes Lymphatic circulation: through “internal jogging” of the diaphragm flushing the body of waste products.
– Respiratory: increased oxygenation of the blood and major organs – laughter is a combination of deep inhalations and full exhalations, inspiring excellent ventilation.
– Balances blood sugar levels
– Physical workout: The effects of laughter and exercise are very similar; anti-aging for the stretched and toned face.
– Decreases pain: through opiate-like endorphin release
– Gifts Energy
– Laughter relaxes the whole body: A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after and can promote two hours of pain-free sleep.
Mental & Emotional benefits:
– Adds joy and zest to life
– Improves alertness, creativity, and memory: humour and creativity engage the whole brain.
– Eases anxiety and fear
– Feel-good hormones: euphoric endorphin and dopamine release promotes an overall sense of wellbeing and offers temporary pain relief.
– Creates a positive state of mind: depression is lifted, even chronic depression may be cured
– Cathartic: laughter can dislodge suppressed or blocked emotions and their release can be life-changing.