I am fortunate to live with someone who makes me laugh a lot. That got me thinking recently; How exactly does laughter affect our health? And when we're in a stressful period, is laughter a clever shortcut technique to minimize the effects?
How does laughter affect our bodies?
– Relaxes the whole body: Laughter has been shown to relieve physical tension in the body and this can take up to 45 minutes after a good laugh.
– Strengthens our immune system: Laughter helps break down stress hormones while increasing immune cells and antibodies to infection, which improves our resistance to disease. And that stuff is free!
– Improves our mood: Laughter triggers the release of endorphins (the body's natural feel-good chemical).
– Helps relieve pain: Studies have shown that laughter can help relieve pain in patients (just think of the brilliant Robin William film Patch Adams, which is based on a real-life story about a doctor who used laughter as a form of healing therapy.
– Diffuse conflict: Laughter can help put your problems and worries into perspective, and it can help allay your anger.
– Protects the heart: Laughing can actually improve blood vessel function and increase blood flow, which can protect us from a heart attack or other cardiovascular problems.
– Burns calories: Okay so it's not quite like a run or a hiit class at the gym, but even 10-15 minutes of laughing has been shown to burn about 40 calories – not smelling, as that alone can result in a weight loss of a a few pounds over the course of a year!
– Promotes group loyalty: Try it at work – it is especially useful and, of course, in a family dynamic, it can move the gears more freely, opening up communication and a sense of closeness.
– Might Even Help You Live Longer: A Norwegian study found that those with a strong sense of humor lived longer than those who didn't laugh as much
Think about it – when was the last time you had a really good laugh? As a kid, you laughed many, many times every day. So isn't it time to bring some of that powerful, immune, and endorphin-boosting laugh back into your life? By looking for more ways to laugh, you can improve your emotional health, strengthen your relationships, discover more happiness, and even live longer. How can you do that?
Look for the fun
Most of our laughs don't come from jokes, just from hanging out with loved ones. Face to face contactWhen the phone or screen is put away it opens up some kind of dialogue that is fun, teasing, and even flirting. You can't really concern yourself with another person when you are distracted. This requires real commitment, listening, and openness. Try to find people who are upbeat and fun and playful. That means people who laugh easily and find humor in the mundane, everyday things – these situations often make for the best laugh.
And smile more – Start with the person serving you your morning coffee or the staff who greet you in your office and even the children you raise. Spreading a smile makes other people feel better, but it also has a big impact on you.
Try to laugh – Even if it is initially forced (research shows that even forced laughter has the same health benefits if the brain is tricked into believing it is authentic). And you will find it is so ridiculous that you really start laughing! Laughter yoga classes are now available, but other routes include watching a funny movie or YouTube clip, going to a local comedy club, or reading a funny book (my sister recommends This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay – she said it was fully created – belly laughs every time she reads it!).
Read more about laughter
The Science of Laughter: – An article in Psychology Today.
Humor in the Workplace: – An article from BBC News.
Book: Laughter: Daily laughter therapy for better health and wellbeing