No laughing matter!
Here’s a list of long-term effects of laughter. Laughter may:
- Improve your immune system. Laughter releases neuropeptides which in turn help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.
- Relieve pain. Laughter produces its own natural painkillers and breaks the pain-spasm cycle common to muscle disorders.
- Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter makes it easier to cope with difficult situations and connect with other people.
- Improve mood. Laughter decreases depression and anxiety and increases your happiness.
A colleague of mine is in the hospital after a serious accident. Some people collect people. They haphazardly pull others along like wake boards behind ski boats. That’s the kind of person my colleague is. As a group of us sat like congregants around him in his hospital room, a friend of his barreled into his room joking about being forced to leave the growler of beer at the desk and reluctantly substituting a box of chocolates for it. Each visitor brought more jokes and laughter so that it spilled out past the curtain and out into the ward. “Laughter,” as the Reader’s Digest has famously said for decades, “is the best medicine.” You might think that the American Medical Association would jump all over such a statement for making false claims but in fact studies say otherwise. According to the Mayo Clinic, “data are mounting about the positive things laughter can do.” Whether you’re talking about heart problems, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, schizophrenia, cancer or a myriad of other diseases, doctors frequently tell patients to reduce their stress but a more proactive response if you need to build your immunity and vaccinate against serious diseases might be to seek humor.
Humor helps us connect to others. A 2014 study in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, found that humor broke down barriers for people with mental illness, potentially decreasing the stigma. Another study found that humor could provide an additional therapeutic tool for people with depression and Alzheimer’s. One benefit of using humor as a medical solution is that unlike most pharmacological treatments, humor doesn’t come with severe side effects.
What to do if you are not born with a natural sense of humor.
I have a younger sister that can’t tell a story without her audience laughing so hard they cry. This worked out especially great for her when she was younger and fighting traffic tickets in court but most of us don’t have an innate sense of humor. Yes, we laugh readily enough when someone points out the humor in a situation but we treat humor as if you have to be born with a funny bone rather than develop one. The Mayo Clinic makes some suggestions for improving your sense of humor. And just the fact that the largest nonprofit medical group practice in the world thinks that humor is important enough that they need to help people develop their sense of humor should be enough to make learning humor a serious undertaking. Here are a few tips from the Mayo Clinic:
- Find things you think of as humorous and keep them around you. Videos, comic strips, photos etc. that you can have at home or in your office can provide you with a humor boost.
- Practice laughing at your own situations and be willing to share that humor with others. This may be difficult at first and may require forcing it. A study in Psychological Science found that smiling produces physiological as well as psychological benefits, even if you are forcing the smile.
- If you know my sister or have other friends that make you laugh, actively look to spend time with them. Humor strengthens our relationships by fostering a feeling of connection. Even in stressful situations, that bond can create a feeling of “we’re all in this together” buffer against problems. Humor mends disagreements, resentments and improves the quality of relationships. Think humor is only for those times when you aren’t at work? Dwight D. Eisenhower once said that, “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” Humor can play an important role at work and while not everyone is ready to do the Happy Dance, shared laughter adds joy, vitality and resilience and what work place or for that matter neighborhood or family doesn’t need that?
- Learn some jokes that you can share with friends. Each Saturday, you can listen to the Dinner Party Download, which shares a variety of things from a special themed cocktail to answers to Miss Manners-type questions but it starts out with a joke. Take a break from talk shows and news shows while you’re commuting and listen to programs that make laughter and jokes a part of their routine. Jokes provide us a way to hold a mirror to our lives but they also have a way of leveling the playing field. Are you looking for a way to talk to the very young and the not so young? Go watch a Pixar movie.
Here’s a great article on laughter that provides loads of resources and a great way to lighten up your day. Go out of your way to find reasons to laugh.