The benefits of laughter to our physical health, mental health, psychological well-being, social interactions, and coping strategy cannot be overemphasized.
Let’s start with a story
It was in 1964 when a young man was diagnosed with a type of cancer, Ankylosing Spondylitis. It caused so much pain and was considered fatal. He had a 1-to-500 odds of beating that cancer.
The man’s name was Norman Cousins and he lived 36 more years after he was first diagnosed.
His secret was laughter.
He found that when he watched a comedy skit and laughed, he felt less pain and better. Thus, he prescribed himself a daily dose of laughter.
Ill say that Norman called our attention to fortify the research on the scientific bases of these long-standing quotes
“Laughter makes the heart merry”, “Laughter is the best medicine”
First, A Definition of Laughter…
From the psychological point of view, laughter is a physical expression of an emotional state such as happiness, mirth, or joy that has numerous protective qualities.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defined it as a show of emotion, with a chuckle or explosive vocal sound.
However, laughter can also be a physical expression of nervousness (nervous laughter), anxiety, or a sign of a medical condition.
Laughter is a universal behaviour, and one of the few behaviours noticed in children as young as 4 months of age.
It is usually used in the same context as a smile and humour.
Both a smile and laughter is an expression of happiness and spontaneous, however, laughter is more vocal. On the other hand, it is possible to smile without smiling, but hard to laugh without a smile.
Humour, on the other hand, is a state of mind with the tendency to provoke laughter.
Benefits of Laughter
After 50 years of research on the health impact of humour, a professor emeritus, Sven Svebak, said “A friendly sense of humour will bless you with better social relations as well as coping skills, and the reduced risk of dying early,”
Ok, let’s skip talks about death and focus on now
How about this other quote from Sven
“A friendly sense of humour acts like shock absorbers in a car, a mental shock absorber in everyday life to help us cope better with a range of frustrations, hassles and irritations.”
Have you tried sitting in the back of a Lagos taxi with zero shock absorbers? Learn how to manage stress in Lagos, Abuja or any city in Nigeria
Trust me on this; it’s not a good experience
There are many benefits of laughter to the body such as it strengthens our immune system, aids digestion, helps burn calories.
How about the mental health, psychological and social benefits of laughter
Mental Health Benefits of Laughter
In order to under this benefit better, lets do this.
Listen to a comedy skit of no more than 5 mins with a friend, or a colleague, just at the time you think you are going through a lot of stress at work.
This is not a rhetoric question.
I want you to try it.
Laughter helps us handle stress by easing the tension, relaxing the muscles and lowering our blood pressure. It has also been scientifically shown to decrease the level of stress hormones, such as cortisol, in the body. A humorous perspective creates what we call a psychological distance, which can help us avoid overwhelming feelings
Regulates and Improves Our Mood:
Want to diffuse anger, tension, hatred, and anxiety? Try adding a little humour to the situation. Nothing diffuses these emotions faster than a burst of shared laughter. It has been suggested that humour helps to show an alternate perspective to a conflict situation that led to these emotions as less threatening.
Triggers Release of the ‘Feel Good Hormones’:
Endorphins are usually referred to as the feel-good hormone. Laughter stimulates the brain to release more endorphins. The release of these hormones increases our overall happiness. For example, serotonin is a calming, pain-relieving endorphin while dopamine improves our mood. Laughter has also been shown to improve depression.
“I found that 10 minutes of solid belly laughing would give me two hours of pain-free sleep”
These were the words of Norman Cousins
Laughter and humour can distract us from the pain, even in chronic medical conditions.
It can also help provide a sense of control when a situation may look helpless.
I once read about how a woman struggling with cancer. She asked her doctor how much time she had to live because she wanted to be the first to tell her husband. She wanted to laugh at his facial expressions when she tells him he’ll need to get another wife soon.
Moreover, when we laugh, our body releases endorphins, such as serotonin, which help reduce the sensation of pain. Experts have suggested that the body’s natural endorphins are stronger to relieve pain than most pharmacies bought medications.
Helps Build Better Relationships:
According to Victor Borge “Laughter is the closest distance between two people”.
Naturally, we are attracted to funny people because the brain interprets them as less threatening. Moreover, laughter makes us more attractive to other people. No wonder they say a smile is the best makeup
a girl, anybody can wear.
Likewise, we are more likely to share personal conversations with people we share a laugh with. We find we are more connected to them and more likely to drop our guards.
Besides, laughter is an antidote for resentments, hatred, resentments and more, so there is less conflict.
Sharing laughter is one of the ways to build families, romantic relationships and communities.
To explain this, it easy to site Norman Cousin’s classic recovery story but we’ll consider another angle.
Let’s point out that Insomnia may be caused by stress. Thus, by relieving stress, laughter helps sleep.
Enhances Memory and Creative Thinking:
Humour has been shown to defuse heated arguments and increase creative thinking. Humour also stimulates memories and improve mental acuity even for the elderly. Humour supports existing brain neurons and encourages the growth of new neurons and synapses
Reduces Negative Thoughts:
No doubt, negative thoughts have been linked with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and much more. When we laugh, our cerebral cortex (a brain region) releases electrical impulses that block the passage of negative thoughts immediately we start laughing. Studies have defined thoughts as electrical impulses, chemicals and neurons.
Consequently, when we laugh longer, the happier we are.
Laughter Is Best Shared With People
Most experts believe that the benefits of laughter are stronger when people enjoy it with others who are like-minded.
Other psychological studies have shown that we are 30 times easier to laugh when we are around other people.
“Laughter is the closest distance between two people” – Victor Borde
Laughter is contagious… Be the spark in the room.
Laughing At Ourselves
One of the ways we can reduce self-bullying or be critical of ourselves is by replacing critical statements in our mind with humour and laugh about it. Laughing at ourselves facilitates the acceptance of ourselves and be can be used to boost self-esteem and protect ourselves.
Laughter or humour also improves narratives in our mind that reduces shame, inferiority, sadness, perfectionism, and more. Laughing at oneself also encourages healing from a stressful or traumatic situation.
How to Improve Laughter or Humor
- Smile more often with others (even strangers)
- Count your blessings by showing gratitude or completing a gratitude journal
- When you hear laughter, move toward it
- Spend time with fun, playful people
- Bring humour to conversations
- Spend time with pets
- Laughter has no side effects, is readily accessible
To summarize, we say
Laugh Out Loud
…but, remember this…
Don’t laugh at the expense of others. Some forms of humour aren’t appropriate. Use your best judgment to discern a good joke from a bad or hurtful one.
Until I come your way next time, remember better day tomorrow.