Think back to a time when someone told you a joke or personal story that made you laugh so hard you could barely breathe. Or that time that ridiculous thing happened that left you and your friends helplessly giggling like children.
Do you remember how you felt an hour later? Or even years later when you laughed just as hard relating the story to a friend? You probably felt pretty good – happy and relaxed, even elated. There are excellent reasons for that, and for why we tend to instinctively believe the old adage “laughter is the best medicine.”
What Happens When You Laugh?
Besides being one of the most pleasurable things you can do, all kinds of good things happen to your body when you laugh. For example, laughter:
- relaxes tense muscles leaving you feeling less stressed (and that relaxed state can last beyond the laughter)
- increases your immune response by increasing infection-fighting antibodies
- protects your heart by increasing blood flow and blood vessel function
- diffuses conflict and puts things in perspective, which again reduces stress and might help with lowering your blood pressure
- releases endorphins which increase your sense of well-being and even minimize pain
- might help you live longer (studies indicate that people who laugh a lot and have good senses of humor tend to live longer than those dour types)
The Social Side of Laughter
Not always, but most often when we’re laughing, we’re doing it with others. We might be watching a movie, attending a comedy club, hanging out with friends and telling stories, indulging in some good natured, affectionate teasing, or just watching our kids play. Shared laughter helps us connect with others and enhances relationships.
Humor can also help during sad times and in tough situations. A bit of levity can ease tension and give us at least momentary relief from the weight of a serious situation. And that kind of welcome humor can bring us closer to others.
Remember that life is funny, even when it’s serious. And then, try not to take yourself too seriously. People who can laugh at themselves are more fun to be around.
Side Note – Smile!
Laughing isn’t always appropriate or possible, but here’s a little thing you can do: smile more. Just that small act can improve your mood and – this is really great – the mood of those you encounter. Your face muscles relax, you’ll look happy and pleasant, and feel that way too. So make a point to smile more often throughout the day. Give the cashier at the market a warm smile, the person exiting the elevator as you enter a friendly smile, and the receptionist you normally breeze past a big “good morning” grin. It will actually make you feel happy (studies show!) And you’ll get some really great smiles back.
If Laughter is Good Medicine, is There a Prescription?
Well, actually, yes. Proponents of laughter for health do have some recommendations for how much you should laugh every day. Usually about 20 minutes. More if you can. Consider this: children laugh about 400 times a day, adults 15 or fewer times a day. Who do you think is having more fun and is less stressed?
Norman Cousins, who suffered from a rare, debilitating disease and famously used laughter to ease his pain claimed that every 10 minutes of laughter brought him two hours of pain-free sleep.
Laughing is free and has no side effects. You can’t literally “die laughing” or “bust a gut.” But you can feel happier, lighter, less stressed, and get more enjoyment out of life and from the people you care about.
Lightening Up – How To
The pharmacy equivalent for acquiring more mirth in your life could be as simple as scrolling through the comedy offerings at Netflix, Amazon Prime, On Demand, or whatever streaming service you use. Between those techno-thrillers and galactic battle films, intersperse a few comedies. Treat yourself to binge-watching a season of reruns of an old favorite sit-com. Find an online daily joke site or app to start your day with a smile. Pick up a funny book or a book of funnies. Tune in to a comedy channel or, better, grab some friends and head out to a local comedy club one evening. That will remind you of how much fun it is to let go and just laugh your butt off (no, alas, that’s not literally possible either – but laughing does burn some calories).
And if you still don’t have enough laughter in your life, you could try laughter yoga. Yes, really – don’t laugh. Since about the late 90s, laughter yoga has become increasingly popular and recognized for its positive effects on stress and well-being. It doesn’t have to be yoga, there are other kinds of laughter therapy, but basically the idea is intentional group laughter. Although this kind of laughter starts off as (knowingly) forced, it can quickly turn genuine and the beneficial results are the same.
Or, take a chance: let someone you love tickle you to death (okay, not really to death ….) Remember, laughter is contagious!