If you spend any time around children, you’ve probably noticed that they laugh with a type of free abandon that is, sadly, mostly lost on people over the age of 21. Once we become “adults” and take on the responsibilities that go with it – work, bills, cleaning, and all of those other not-so-fun grown-up responsibilities – we begin to take life much more seriously … really, too seriously.
The fact of the matter is, lightening up a little – or a lot – not only feels good, it IS good, from a health standpoint, that is. If you can’t remember the last time you’ve laughed, and we mean really laughed, the kind where you can’t catch your breath and your belly hurts, then this article is for you … because as you’ll soon find out, laughter is one of the best “medicines” around.
Why You Should Laugh More
One of the classic tales of the healing power of laughter came from Norman Cousins, a longtime editor of the Saturday Review. After being diagnosed with a crippling disease that left him bedridden (ankylosing spondylitis), he left the hospital and instead set himself up in a hotel room. There he not only took high doses of vitamin C but also watched funny movies, which he credited with helping him to heal (you can read a full account of his journey in his 1979 book, Anatomy of an Illness).
Making a concerted effort to laugh more is a classic example of taking charge of your health, and it’s a technique that goes way back; surgeons used humor to distract patients from pain as early as the 13th century!
Laughter leads to physical changes in your body. For starters, it increases the amount of oxygen you take in, which boosts your heart, lung and muscle function. It also helps to stimulate your circulation while at the same time relaxing your muscles. Plus, laughter stimulates your brain to produce more endorphins, neurotransmitters that not only make you feel happier but also reduce feelings of pain. 1
Laughter Boosts Your Immune System, Reduces Stress and More
Humor is one of the most frequently used complementary therapies among cancer patients, and research suggests it could benefit people suffering from virtually any chronic disease because of its beneficial effect on your immune system. One study found that laughter may reduce stress and improve natural killer (NK) cell (a part of your immune system) activity.2
“As low NK cell activity is linked to decreased disease resistance and increased morbidity in persons with cancer and HIV disease, laughter may be a useful cognitive-behavioral intervention,” researchers said.
If you’re feeling stressed, laughter can also help on multiple levels. It provides a physical release for tension while distracting you from your problems, helping you put them into perspective. Laughing has even been proven to induce positive emotions and encourage optimistic feelings. 3
Using laughter as a form of therapy can actually have body-wide benefits such as:
- Boosting your immune and circulatory systems
- Enhancing oxygen intake
- Stimulating your heart and lungs
- Relaxing muscles
- Triggering the release of endorphins (natural painkillers)
- Easing digestion
- Soothing stomach aches
- Relieving pain
- Balancing blood pressure
- Improving mental functions (alertness, memory and creativity)
- Improving overall attitiude
- Reducing stress/tension
- Promoting Relaxation
- Improving sleep
- Enhancing quality of life
- Strengthening social bonds and relationships
- Producing a general sense of well-being
Laughing is Similar to Exercising!
Repetitive, mirthful laughing is a physical act, one that involves contracting your muscles and deep breathing, similar to exercise. Research has shown, in fact, that hearty laughter leads to similar responses in your body as a moderate workout, such as decreases in stress hormones, benefits to cholesterol levels, enhanced immune activity and improved mood.
“The body’s response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise,” said researcher Lee Berk from Loma Linda University in California, in a press release.4
You shouldn’t give up your gym membership for a subscription to the comedy movie of the month club … but adding more laughter to your life may be similarly important to your health as staying active.
Looking for Laughter? 6 Tips to Add Humor to Your Life
Laughter may seem hard to come by, so if you want to add this feel-good (and free!) “medicine” to your life, try these simple suggestions:
1. Spend time around kids; they like to laugh, a lot, and laughter is contagious
2. Surround yourself with positive, light-hearted people (because, again, hearty laughter is infectious!)
3. Go to see a stand-up comic
4. Check out a new comedy on film or TV (even better if you watch it with friends who like to laugh, too)
5. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself
6. Join a laughter club (yes, they do exist – search online for one in your area)
1. Proc. R. Soc. B 22 March 2012 vol. 279 no. 1731 1161-1167
2. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Mar-Apr;9(2):38-45.
3. PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51959.
4. LiveScience April 26, 2010