Laughter is the Best Medicine
Do you know what seven days without laughing makes? It makes one weak. Ok, this is an old joke, but did you at least giggle or smirk and let out a tiny laugh? Laughter is one of many actions that make us distinctly human. Other species may have reactions that are similar to laughter, but none involve the same intricacies. Laughter is more complicated than many of us know, and it plays a major role in how emotionally and physically healthy you are. The average person laughs approximately seventeen times a day, and science is showing that laughing less than that actually can make you weak.
First, let’s talk for a minute about what laughter really is. Physiologically, laughter is a combined series of gestures, muscular movements and sound. When you laugh, there are fifteen separate facial muscles that contract. While this is happening, your larynx becomes partially closed, causing you to unconsciously gasp for air and make strange noises. For some people, blood vessels dilate, causing reddened cheeks and tear ducts can become activated. While the process itself sounds rather unhealthy, the product of it all is what we recognize as laughter, and it is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
What many of us don’t realize, probably because we never really think about it, is that laughter itself is an uncontrollable action. It is about as easy to genuinely laugh on command as it is to cry on demand. Some people can do it, but most of us can’t. Another interesting fact about laughter is that it isn’t always related to humor. Robert R. Provine, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, has done some interesting studies in the science of laughter. He and his team looked at over a thousand instances of laughter in everyday circumstances and conversations and discovered that only ten to twenty percent of them were actually connected to humor. All of the other instances of laughter were tied to non humorous parts of the conversation. For example, when you greet someone that you haven’t seen in a while, you might embrace them with a smile and laughter. There is nothing particularly funny about this situation, however it is joyful and laughter is your body’s natural response to that emotion.
It isn’t always easy to find more humorous situations for laughter, but finding more reasons to be joyful doesn’t need to be difficult. This is good news because creating more joyful laughter in your life is proven to have major health benefits.
- Laughter gives your immune system a boost. When you laugh, you decrease the amount of stress hormones that are released in your body. These stress hormones have been shown to attack your immune system. A few good laughs a day will help to protect you from a myriad of diseases by keeping your immune system strong.
- Laughter is a stress reliever. This seems like common sense, but as a culture we tend to minimize the effects that stress can have on our health. Stress causes inflammatory reactions in the body, which in turn can have serious consequences. Less stress also means that your muscles will not be as tight, you will be more flexible and have a lesser risk of falls and injuries.
- Laughter is natural pain relief. When you laugh, you release endorphins. Endorphins react with sensors in the brain that alter pain perception. Endorphins work in very much the same way that opiates do in changing how the mind perceives pain. In some cases, laughter is an equal substitute for pain relieving medications.
- Laughter is good for your heart. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland showed a connection between laughter and heart disease. In this study, people with heart disease responded with less laughter during the day. In fact, subjects with heart disease were up to forty times less likely to laugh in given situations than the subjects who did not have heart disease. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of premature mortality. You can help keep your heart healthy by keeping your sense of humor.
- Lightening up lowers blood pressure. People who laugh more tend to have lower blood pressure levels. Even people with no history of hypertensive disorders will show a decrease in blood pressure when engaging in conversation or activities that promote laughter.
- Laughing is as good as going to the gym. Well, not quite as good, but close. Laughing isn’t going to replace your daily workout, but a good laughing session will work your abdominal muscles and just ten to fifteen minutes of laughing per day burns an extra forty calories. This might sound insignificant, but do this every day and at the end of the year you will have lost four pounds. Or, take those extra forty calories and share some dark chocolate with a friend for even more super health benefits.
- Laughter is brain food. Studies show that students who engaged in laughing right before a test performed better than those who didn’t. In addition to this, another study has looked at humor in those aged fifty, sixty and seventy years old. They discovered that those who laughed regularly showed better long term cognitive function, increased memory and fewer symptoms of mental decline.
- Laughter just makes you feel good. Laughter contributes to an improved overall sense of well being. In addition to the physical impact of laughter, the emotional aspect is just as important for a healthy body and mind.
- Laughter makes you beautiful. When was the last time you were able to look at someone who was happily laughing and not seen beauty? There are so many positive emotions that laughter can convey, such as love, friendship, passion, warmth and positivity. It is impossible to not see the beauty in someone when they are emotionally expressing themselves with laughter. Laughter is nature’s cosmetic. It brightens your eyes, flushes your cheeks and highlights your best feature; your smile.
It doesn’t matter how much laughter you enjoy every day, or how joyful your life is already, there is always room for more. Granted, not everything in life can be a laughing matter, but finding opportunities to laugh and share joyousness with others is one simple way that you can become your absolute healthiest self. One of the best ways that you can create more laughter in your life is by expanding your social circle and surrounding yourself with people that bring joy into your life. You might sometimes laugh when you are alone; however in an overwhelming number of situations, laughter is a social reaction.
Robert R. Provine, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, notes that laughter is up to thirty times more frequent in social situations. When we spend time alone, we are more likely to talk to ourselves or smile rather than laugh. Even when people are given a laugh inducing substance, such nitrous oxide, otherwise known as “laughing gas”, more laughter is experienced in social situations than in solitude. Laughter truly is contagious and surrounding yourself with others in pleasant, lighthearted conversation can increase your daily laughter load.
Laughter is a simple way to be happier, healthier and even more productive. Make it a daily goal to laugh more. If this sounds forced and you are wondering how to make this happen naturally, here is a list of ten simple, easy ways of creating more laughter in your life.
- Don’t check the news first thing in the morning. Avoid the temptation to start your day by absorbing all of the stress, sadness and trauma that plagues daily newscasts. There is plenty of time for that later. Spend quality time in the morning enjoying conversation with your family, read the comics or subscribe to your favorite comedian’s daily tweets.
- It starts with a smile. The more you smile, the more likely you are to laugh. Make an effort to smile more, even as you pass strangers or greet coworkers. You will open yourself up to more lighthearted conversation and opportunities for casual laughter, and brighten other people’s day in the process.
- Discover your funny bone. Our lives get so busy that we let humor slide. Discover what makes you laugh and then make it a habit. Is there that one person in your life that seems to always have the funniest, wittiest remarks on the tip of their tongue? Make them one of your new besties. Listen to comedians to find the ones who make you giggle and then subscribe to them or keep them in your television cue for when you need a reason to laugh.
- Read something fun. There is plenty of heavy, meaningful literature out there, but sometimes you need to lighten up and read a book that makes you laugh out loud in the library.
- Get a pet. It doesn’t matter if you are a dog person, or if you prefer the company of cats or parrots. Animal companions make us happy, and their sheer cuteness gives you reason to smile and laugh.
- Laugh at yourself. Stop taking yourself so seriously and accept that sometimes a little laughter, even in difficult times, is exactly what you need. When you are feeling stressed or tense, take a moment and try to find some humor in yourself or the situation that you are in.
- Try something new. Who doesn’t make a few mistakes when trying something new? With the right attitude, these learning curves can be an occasion to laugh. Trying something new also means that you will meet new people who share a similar interest. Pleasant social situations are great ways to boost the laughter content in your life.
- Collect and share humor. In the age of social media there is no shortage of opportunities to find funny things and share them with others. Did that facebook post make you giggle? Share it with your friends and connect through humor even when you can’t spend face to face time together. The next time you are leisurely scrolling through Pinterest, make a board that is dedicated to humor and joyfulness.
- Don’t hide your laugh. Some people hold in laughter because they don’t like the way their laugh sounds, or they are worried about showing their teeth if they smile too widely. Stop it. Embrace your laughter, every bit of it. The people that you are sharing laughter with will only notice how beautiful you look and sound when you are so happy.
- Fake it until you make it. Are you just not feeling it? Maybe you have a lot of stress in your life, or you just aren’t feeling well. You won’t feel like laughing every day. However, if you are in mental place where finding humor in life is just too difficult, try faking it. Try to smile, play along when something is supposed to by funny and hang out with the happy crew for a while even if you are feeling down. This might seem burdensome at first, but you are preventing yourself from shutting down the part of your personality that is connected to laughter and humor, and in the long term keeping yourself connected to humor will help to create more happiness in your life.
Laughter really is one of the best medicines available. Science is proving that laughter is not only good for your soul, but is serious medicine for keeping your entire body healthy. A joke a day keeps illness at bay. Take the time to view the world around you from a more lighthearted and joyful perspective, and allow laughter to filter through your days for greater health and happiness.