Why Laughter is Good For You: Physically, Emotionally, Socially
What is gelotology?
The physiological study of laughter is called gelotology. You can remember it by thinking of the poem, “The Night Before Christmas”, and how Santa Claus had “a little round belly, that shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.”
Why is laughter good for you?
Laughter benefits your health, your emotional well-being, and your social interactions. You can learn to laugh more and be happier and healthier.
I’d like you to try the laughter exercise right now.
There are four sounds of laughter. They are:
Ho, Ha, He, Hay
Use those sounds to laugh right now. It doesn’t matter if it is fake laughing or real laughter. You get the benefits either way. Assuming you are reading this in an appropriate place, let go of your inhibitions and yuk it up.
Ho Ho Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha Ha He He He He Hay Hay Hay Hay
Many people, when fake laughing, start laughing for real. Did this happen to you?
Many people report that they feel different after doing this exercise. They report feeling lighter, more relaxed, happier, less stressed, less tired. Did this happen for you?
By the way, you can even laugh silently. Try it. Laugh without making a sound. Silent laughing works just as well as fake laughing and real laughing—your body doesn’t know the difference.
How many times have you laughed today?
How many times have you laughed today? The average adult laughs 17 times a day, but a child, on average, laughs 400 times a day. Why do children laugh so much? They are not afraid to be silly and everything in the world delights them.
I read this someplace: “We never really grow up. We just learn how to act in public.” Let your inner child out a little more often.
A video of quad babies laughing will chase away the blues.
Why do we laugh?
Laughter has been with us since the first human walked the earth. Scientific research suggests that we are hard-wired for laughter.
Laughter may first have developed over 10 million years ago. It is so old that it is actually pre-human. Research has shown that the great apes, chimpanzees, and monkeys can laugh. We’ve all seen chimps laughing in movies and on TV.
It seems that even dogs laugh. They say the long, loud pant is the sound of a dog laughing, and that it has a calming effect on the behavior of other dogs.
Scientists are now looking into whether rats laugh. Some think they do. I wonder what rats laugh at? Do you remember the Tom and Jerry cartoons? That mouse was always laughing.
The fact that laughter goes so far back on the evolutionary tree suggests that laughter is a very important trait.
Understand the science of laughter.
How does laughter benefit your health?
There is strong evidence that laughter can actually improve health. We have all heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” In the Bible, it says “A merry heart doeth good like medicine”.
Laughter helps fight disease.
It lowers blood pressure.
It boosts oxygen levels in the blood.
It reduces the amount of inflammation in the body.
It stimulates the immune system, by increasing the number of antibody-producing cells and enhancing the effectiveness of T cells.
It reduces the level of stress hormones while increasing the level of endorphins. Endorphins give us a natural high, a feeling of euphoria.
Laughter provides a full body aerobic workout.
Did you ever laugh until it hurts? Here’s why. Laughter gives your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial and back muscles a work out.
The contraction and release of these muscles leaves you feeling more relaxed. It even strengthens the heart. And it is so much more fun that sit-ups and push-ups.
Laughter increases your pain threshold.
The next time you have to have blood drawn or some other painful procedure, say something funny to the doctor.
The last time I had blood drawn, I said “You are going to be taking my blood? What happened--Dracula not available?
Laughter can even help you lose weight.
It can reduce food cravings. So don’t reach for that cookie, reach for a joke book instead. Also, if you are laughing, you can’t eat.
Laugh for 15 minutes, and you will burn 40 calories. Over the course of a year, you could lose nearly 5 pounds.
When did humor therapy begin?
Humor therapy goes as far back at the 14th century when the French surgeon Henri de Mondeville invited the friends and of his patients to tell them jokes to aid in their recovery from surgery. I believe this is where the phrase “bust a gut” comes from.
What is humor therapy?
“Humor Therapy” is a term given to a process that claims to produce therapeutic effects using laughter. This field of medicine is called psycho-neuro-immunology--a $10 word for saying make sick people laugh.
Norman Cousins popularized humor therapy in 1979 when he published his book Anatomy of an Illness. He claimed that ten minutes of laughter could give him two hours of pain relief. Mr. Cousins made a full recovery.
The effect of humor on the chronically ill was depicted in the hit movie, Patch Adams. The movie was based on the true story of Dr. Hunter Adams, an unorthodox doctor who believed that laughter was the best medicine.
Patch Adams had to fight to get recognition for his beliefs. But today, many hospitals are implementing humor centers and humor intervention in treating patients.
Duke University developed the "Duke Humor Project" which offers bedside humor therapy to cancer patients using books, audio, video, and clown props.
What are the emotional benefits of laughter?
Laughter improves our mental health as well as our physical health. Negative emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness can literally be laughed away. Laughter brings the focus away from anger, guilt, and other negative emotions in a more beneficial way than other mere distractions. Laughter restores our equanimity.
Laughter provides a physical release from intense emotions. Have you ever felt like you had to laugh or you’ll cry? After you have laughed at one of those moments, do you feel somehow renewed and reinvigorated? The negative emotions have been swept away and you are ready to deal with the situation in a rational way.
Here’s a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, the famous writer, on this subject. “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterwards."
Laughter is one of my favorite stress management techniques. It’s free, you already know how to do it, and you can do it just about anywhere.
A joke book can get you laughing.
When you are having a terrible-horrible–no-good-very-bad-day, you can find a private place and laugh, either out loud or silently-- depending on just how private that private place is-- laugh until you feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle the problems.
This technique can work even before you get stressed. Suppose you have to do something that you know you will find stressful in either your business or personal life. Just make sure you laugh before you get to that stressful situation. Do some fake laughing or find something funny to get you laughing. Watch a funny video on U-Tube, think about something funny you saw on TV last night, read a joke book.
Get yourself laughing. If your stomach is tied up in knots, laughter will unknot it. If all those butterflies are dancing around in your stomach, laughter will chase those butterflies right out of your stomach.
What are the social benefits of laughter?
Laughter may be such an important trait because most mammals are social animals. We live in packs, families, communities. We need interaction with others. And laughter, according to social scientists, helps strengthen connections between the members of the pack or social group.
Laughter can diffuse an embarrassing situation, relieve a tense moment, improve interpersonal relationships, and enhance communication. It disrupts power struggles and breaks down barriers between people.
It can help a group to bond. It is a feedback loop. Laugh, bond; laugh more, bond more.
Whether you are meeting someone for the first time, getting a group together for a meeting, or giving a presentation, try to introduce a little humor in the first few minutes. Say something that arises from the situation and something that relates to the group.
Jokes or funny comments should make everyone feel good. Try to use self-deprecatory humor--the joke is on you. We need to avoid put-downs and mean spiritedness. If someone is getting all red-faced and feeling humiliated, that is a downer for everyone.
Humor helps us form social bonds when we tell stories l about ourselves and our shared moments. These are the stories that remind us of our relationship to each other and our feeling of shared community.
Watch this video about laughter yoga.
How can you bring more laughter into your life?
You can choose to bring more laughter and more happiness into your life. Happiness is not just something that happens to you; when you choose to laugh, you choose to be happy.
Here are some specific things you can do.
Join or start a laughter club.
You can get together with others in a “laughter club” and do what has come to be known as “laughter yoga.” It is not like the regular yoga with a bunch of complicated poses. Mainly, you just laugh.
If you are going to have a laughter session, don’t bother with jokes. They not needed, and in fact, they detract from the session. You just start with the fake laughter, and soon enough it will become real laughter. You can try various laughter exercises. The video above will give you some ideas to get you started.
Try laughter yoga as an icebreaker before a meeting or at a party. It will get everyone into a good mood.
Find opportunities to laugh throughout the day.
Don't just wait for something to make you laugh. Create opportunities to laugh.
Get your day off to a good start! When you take a shower in the morning, laugh in the shower.
Think of funny things at odd moments during the day. Instead of thinking about your problems, recall a funny incident, a funny joke, or something funny that you saw in a movie or TV show. Replay it in your mind as you do chores, wait in line, or other activities that leave your mind free to wander.
Exaggerate your laughter.
Another way to get the benefits of laughter--Exaggerate your laughter!
When someone says something funny, don’t just smile or chuckle—take your response up a notch and laugh out loud. Laughter is contagious. Everyone around you will laugh more and that will get you to laughing more also. Plus the person who said the funny thing will feel so appreciated.
If you are watching a funny show on TV and it makes you laugh, don’t just give a small half-hearted laugh. Give a howl! It’s just you and the TV.
Turn your complaints into funny stories.
Instead of complaining about life's frustrations, make up a funny story about them, and tell them to your friends.
You’ll laugh twice. Once as you find “the funny” in what has happened to you, and again when you actually tell it to your friends. And your story will make your friends laugh. So your bad experience has a silver lining-- it is putting a lot more laughter into the world.
Laughter is contagious. Share it!
Laugh and the world laughs with you!
Not only does laughter improve your health, your emotional state and your social interactions, but you can also use laughter to help others. Don’t be selfish keeping all the laughter to yourself. Let everyone have the benefits of laughter.
You can use laughter to elevate the mood of everyone around you, you can reduce their stress levels, lift their spirits, and perhaps improve the quality of the social interaction you experience with them.
Now do the fake laughing exercise again.
Ho Ho Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha Ha He He He He Hay Hay Hay Hay
Just for fun--take this poll.
About how many time did you laugh while reading this article?
© 2014 Catherine Giordano