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A merry heart doeth good like medicine. Psalms 17:22
Health benefits of laughter? Can laughter really relieve stress? Actual laboratory research has proven the answer to be an overwhelming yes. 1
My friend’s two children, Emily and Mitchell, are great companions. Mitchell, age 7, loves to make Emily, age 5, laugh. Emily could laugh all day long a Mitchell’s antics, which in turn brings out silliness in Emily that makes Mitchell laugh. It’s fun just watching them as they exhibit their playfulness and laughter. Oh, the joy of childhood!
When we turn into adults life can become such a serious matter. The laughter and the playfulness is too often lost. Most of us could stand to add more laughter to our lives.
Fact: The average number of laughs per day for adults – 25
The average number of laughs per day for children – 400
James E. Loehr in Stress for Success claims adults should aim to laugh at least 50 times a day to help keep stress away.
So what are the health benefits of laughter? There are so many of them.
Research shows that laughter is a whole body experience. A good laugh changes our muscular system, central nervous system, respiratory system, cardiovascular function, immune system, as well as our psychological state. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases tolerance to pain. Think of the last time you had a good laugh. Remember the good feelings you had right after, and how that feeling lingered? It’s like for a few minutes having found the secret of happiness.
Laughter changes behavior. It causes you to go from feeling hopeless to happy. It energizes you, causing you to be more apt to reach out to others around you – to try things you’ve been avoiding. It increases productivity. For those physically handicapped or physically inactive, the health benefits of laughter is like a physical work out. For everyone, it massages your organs.
When laughter is present, stress and anxiety are absent. With stress absent, the negative messengers that stress brings are also absent, allowing the happy messengers (endorphins and GABA) to begin to return to action. Laughter chases away the fight or flight response running through your system and fills you with happy emotions. When you laugh, you are reshaping your brain chemistry! Your thinking is clearing up so you can see things more realistically – changing your perception of a particular stressor.
Choose daily to bring more laughter into your day. Here are some ways:
– Read the comics in the newspaper.
– Surf the web for clean jokes. Copy them and keep at your work place.
– Watch funny shows. (Norman Cousins is know to have overcome cancer by watching comedy shows).
– Laugh at yourself. Find humor in your embarrassing situations and share them with someone.
– Be more playful and occasionally silly. Encourage that in others.
– Play little jokes on each other.
– Be responsive to others’ attempts to be humorous and build on them.
– A laugh is like a wave of recovery from a stressful emotion. It breaks up stress. Learn to see humor in times of great stress.
– Be careful to stay away from humor that hurts others. This not only reflects insensitivity but also insecurity, both contributing to more stress.
Emily and Mitchell have the right idea. They unknowingly benefit from the health benefits of laughter. How great to experience the freedom of stress and the joy of childhood laughter! As adults with bigger loads to carry, we have to consciously create an atmosphere of laughter. It takes some effort and purposeful planning, but it’s well worth the effort.
1 Dr. William F. Frey, “Medical Perspectives on Humor”, Humor and Health Journal,#1 (1993)