Laughter reduces pain, increases job performance, connects people emotionally, and improves the flow of oxygen to the heart and brain.
- Laughter, it’s said, is the best medicine. And there’s lots of evidence that laughter does lots of good things for us.
- It reduces pain and allows us to tolerate discomfort.
- It reduces blood sugar levels, increasing glucose tolerance in diabetics and non-diabetics alike.
- It improves your job performance, especially if your work depends on creativity and solving complex problems. Its role in intimate relationships is vastly underestimated and it really is the glue of good marriages. It synchronizes the brains of speaker and listener so that they are emotionally attuned.
- Laughter establishes — or restores — a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people, In fact, some researchers believe that the major function of laughter is to bring people together. And all the health benefits of laughter may simply result from the social support that laughter stimulates.
Now comes hard new evidence that laughter helps your blood vessels function better. It acts on the inner lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium, causing vessels to relax and expand, increasing blood flow. In other words, it’s good for your heart and brain, two organs that require the steady flow of oxygen carried in the blood.
At this year’s meeting of the American College of Cardiology, Michael Miller, M.D., of the University of Maryland reported that in a study of 20 healthy people, provoking laughter did as much good for their arteries as aerobic activity. He doesn’t recommend that you laugh and not exercise. But he does advise that you try to laugh on a regular basis. The endothelium, he explains, regulates blood flow and adjusts the propensity of blood to coagulate and clot. In addition, it secretes assorted chemicals in response to wounds, infection or irritation. It also plays an important role in the development of cardiovascular disease.
“The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries,” said Dr. Miller. “So given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium. And reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
At the very least, he adds, “laughter offsets the impact of mental stress, which is harmful to the endothelium.”
The researcher can’t say for sure exactly how laughter delivers its heart benefit. It could come from the vigorous movement of the diaphragm muscles as you chuckle or guffaw. Alternatively, or additionally, laughter might trigger the release in the brain of such hormones as endorphins that have an effect on arteries.
It’s also possible that laughter boosts levels of nitric oxide in artery walls. Nitric oxide is known to play a role in the dilation of the endothelium. “Perhaps mental stress leads to a breakdown in nitric oxide or inhibits a stimulus to produce nitric oxide that results in vasoconstriction.”
Dr. Miller offers a simple prescription that won’t bankrupt you and could save your life. “Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system,” he says.
Have you laughed lately?
If not, get out of your serious self and loosen up.
- Laughter is a powerful tool for combating stress and conflict. It can dissipate anger, sadness and other negative emotions. In addition to making you feel good, laughter can improve your health and make your relationships with others closer and stronger. There are a wide variety of benefits to be gained by making daily laughter a priority.
- Many studies have shown that laughter can boost your energy level and reduce stress. These are just a few of the ways that laughter can improve your health:
- Laughter is relaxing. A good session of laughing can relieve muscle tension and make you feel more relaxed. This in turn can calm you and bring a general sense of well being.
- Laughter can boost your immune system. Infection-fighting antibodies are released when you laugh. Stress hormones are decreased as laughter reduces stress.
- Laughter can reduce chronic pain. Medical studies have shown that 10 minutes of laughter can diminish chronic pain for up to 2 hours.
- Laughter can improve your creativity. You can face challenges with more perspective with a good sense of humor. This leads to more creative problem solving.
- The physical benefits of laughter can lead to an improved outlook on life. Laughter can bring optimism and a more positive attitude. It can also bring resiliency that will help you bounce back from disappointments and survive tough times. Laughter will leave you feeling energized and renewed, ready to face life’s daily stresses without being overwhelmed.
- Laughter is a contagious social activity. When people are in a group and they hear someone laughing, they often join in spontaneously. Laughing with other people helps us to make a connection with them, opening the door to communication and creating a bond. When two people in a relationship share a common sense of humor, it can reduce stress between them and defuse conflict. By introducing more humor and playfulness into your relationships, you can strengthen them and make them more satisfying.
How can laughter help a relationship?
People who incorporate humor and playfulness into their relationships are able to drop some of their inhibitions and defensiveness. This allows them to enjoy more spontaneity and a deeper emotional connection. When laughter and humor are used to defuse conflict, negative emotions like resentment and anger don’t get a chance to build up. In fact, laughter and a shared sense of humor are nothing less than essential for strong and healthy relationships.
Children laugh hundreds of times per day, but as adults we can sometimes go through an entire day without sharing a heartfelt laugh. Maybe you’ve started taking life very seriously as you’ve gotten older, or maybe anxiety and stress have taken their toll on your ability to appreciate humor. Or maybe you grew up in a household where humor and laughter weren’t encouraged. This doesn’t mean that you can’t start now and learn how to make laughter an important part of your life.
Like all of life’s most important skills, humor can be learned and rediscovered. I’m not suggesting that you start to act like a child again, but you can learn something about laughter and humor by setting aside time to develop your playful side.
Here are 10 activities that will help increase your ability to laugh, play and have fun.
- Smile more often. A smile is the first step towards laughter and is equally contagious. Make a conscious effort to smile more and laughter will follow.
- Spend more time with happy people. It’s easier to laugh and feel happy when you’re surrounded by people who know how to have fun. Seek out friends who are playful and like to laugh.
- Use funny stories to lighten your mood. Pay attention to the funny stories that other people share and learn how to tell your own. Appreciate the humor in daily experiences and share it with friends.
- Introduce humor when it’s appropriate. Lighten up conversations by introducing an element of humor. Initiate conversations that are funny and playful.
- Enjoy inside jokes with friends. Sharing private jokes with another person brings you closer. Bringing up a private joke is a good way to re-experience the humor of the moment.
- Seek out entertainment with humor. Watch comedy movies. Rent some classic comedy films and enjoy them with friends. Go to a comedy club. Check out humorous books and comic strips. The culture of comedy is infectious and will improve your sense of humor.
- Have a laugh at your own expense. When appropriate, share your embarrassing moments with others. This can help you take yourself a little less seriously.
- Be playful and silly. Have a water fight, take part in some horseplay, indulge a case of the giggles. It’s all part of lightening up.
- Play games with friends. Whether its board games or sports, keep the atmosphere low-key, fun and non-competitive. Just play for the fun of it and have some laughs along the way.
- Spend time with children. We can learn a lot from their sense of play and laughter. Put aside your “adult” thinking and try to see things through their eyes.
As you incorporate laughter into your life, you may find yourself becoming more creative.
When you know how to lighten up and take yourself less seriously, you become less worried about making mistakes. Having a sense of playfulness allows you to explore various solutions to a problem. When your state of mind is relaxed and open to possibility, new ideas have a chance to develop. Daily laughter and a good sense of humor will help keep life interesting.
When you take time to bring more laughter into your life, you’ll see positive changes in many areas. Life will become more enjoyable, and you’ll find it easier to connect with other people. Your relationships will benefit as you bond with friends and loved ones through your sense of humor.
- Laughing only 15 minutes a day can help you lose weight. Scientists at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee have discovered that a daily dose of laughter can burn up to five pounds of fat over a year. 10 to 15 minutes of laughter can increase energy expenditure by 10 to 40 calories per day.
- Laughter is contagious. Researchers at University College London found that hearing laughter and other positive sounds triggers a response in the area of the brain that’s activated when we smile.
- Laughter stimulates the body. A good hearty laugh stimulates your organs, soothes tension and tummy aches, improves the immune system, relieves pain and increases overall personal satisfaction, according to a Mayo Clinic advisory on stress.
- Laughter fights infections. Research has found that higher levels of salivary immunoglobulin (an antibody that fights infections organisms entering the respiratory tract) were found in the saliva of people who watched funny videos or had experienced good moods.
- Laughter boosts killer cells. After watching an hour long video of slapstick comedy, researchers have found that the “natural killer cells” which seek out and destroy malignant cells more actively attacked tumor cells in test tubes. These types of effects lasted up to 12 hours.
Arm yourself with the power of laughter and you’ll be ready to take on whatever challenges life brings your way.
Several studies have shown that a positive attitude or emotional state can boost your chances of surviving cancer. In one study, among patients with metastatic (spreading) cancers, those who expressed greater hope at the time of their diagnosis survived longer. In another study, over 400 reports of spontaneous remission of cancer were reviewed and analyzed. The patients themselves attributed their cure to a broad range of causes, but only one factor was common to all the cases–a shift toward greater hope and a positive attitude.
One clinician traced unexpected tumor shrinkage to favorable changes in the psychosocial situation of the patient. Examples of such changes include “a sudden fortunate marriage; the experience of having one’s entire order of clergy engage in an intercessory prayer; sudden, lasting reconciliation with a long-hated mother; unexpected and enthusiastic praise and encouragement from an expert in one’s field; and the fortunate death of a de-compensated alcoholic and addicted husband who stood in the way of a satisfying career.”
The late Norman Cousins described a national survey of oncologists (completed during his stay at the UCLA Medical School) in his last book, Head First: The Biology of Hope. Of the 649 who offered their opinions on the importance of various psychological factors in fighting cancer, “More than 90% of the physicians said they attached the highest value to the attitudes of hope and optimism.”
There are few sources of stress in life greater than the words, “You have cancer” or “You have few months to live” or “You have lost everything”. And we have known for decades that any kind of stress–especially chronic stress that’s there day after day–has a suppressive effect on the immune system. You are more vulnerable to becoming ill when constantly stressed precisely because your immune system is not operating as well is it normally would–if you were under less stress or were coping with it more effectively.
Your sense of humor provides a powerful antidote to immuno-suppressive effects of stress in two ways: through 1) direct effects of humor and laughter upon the immune system, and 2) indirect effects resulting from humor’s ability to help you cope on the tough days.
- Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
- Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
- Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
- Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
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