“We don’t laugh because we are happy. We are happy because we laugh.” (Dr. William James)
Medical science has done formal research for at least the past 40 years on the overwhelming health benefits of laughing; and of course philosophers have talked about the health and psychological benefits of laughter since the book of Proverbs was written in the Old Testament, thousands of years ago. Yet, it is seldom mentioned by physicians or even by psychologists in the doctor’s office.
Laughter is without any doubt one of the very best treatments for blood pressure, muscle tightness, pain, cardiovascular (heart conditions), immune system defense, sleep disorder, anxiety, depression, chronic and acute anger, and relationship conflicts. People who have a sense of humor are shown in respected research studies to live longer, and certainly to live happier. People who laugh and smile look younger, and leave an impression on people which is ageless.
When we laugh a cascade of hormones and other chemicals are released into the body and brain, all of which are beneficial to our overall physical and emotional health. Blood flow is increased to all of our essential organs, especially to the heart. The immune system gets a boost from laughter. Muscles relax after a good laugh. The parts of our brain which activate creativity and problem-solving abilities are stimulated by laughter. This is why you need to avoid allowing anyone to rob you of your sense of humor by getting you emotionally off-balance. This is a trick used by manipulative people to make you more vulnerable. Just keep laughing. Laughter can be disarming.
Even just a smile has been proven in some research to have many of the same effects as laughter. Certainly people who smile more frequently are shown to have better physical and emotional health.
Since medical and psychological research is overwhelming in proclaiming the benefits of laughter, it is worth our efforts to improve our sense of humor. The most basic place to start is with your attitude about yourself and life in general. If you are of the temperament type who takes life seriously, or you grew up in a household with some pretty intense people (I can lay claim to both of those things), you will need to simply try to see another side of the situations that you tend to take seriously. Of course, we need a balance in our emotional life: We need sadness; we need anger; and other serious emotions in the mix. But, there are many things in which we can genuinely see the humor if we try to slightly alter our perspective.
Learn to laugh at your own mistakes, shortcomings, and embarrassments. Learn to see the irony and absurdity of even some of the unpleasant situations that arise in our lives. And, of course, keep a hopeful attitude, always. Remember funny moments from your life. Write them down. Since children are born with the ability to laugh more naturally (we tend to grow cynical from environmental influences), try to get in touch with your inner child. Be around children, see things from their perspective and laugh with them. Just be silly with them. Your furry children can especially keep you laughing. Be around other people who have a really good sense of humor, and avoid negative people. Watch more comedies, and fewer slasher films.
Another interesting piece of research shows that the physical/psychological benefits of “forced” laughter (when nothing particularly funny is happening but you force yourself to laugh anyway), are the very same as when you are laughing at something specific. In fact, it is really fun to just start laughing hilariously when you are all by yourself standing in a long line. You will get to the head of the line much faster that way. Trust me.
Lighten up. But, never ever tell someone else to “lighten up.” You might find yourself unable to laugh for a long long time. At least until the doctor unwires your jaw.
Here is wishing you good humor, and good health!
Christopher Knippers, Ph.D. March 8, 2017