The Healthy Habit of Laughter: It’s No Joke That It’s Good for You
By Martha Michael
Whether it’s sitcoms, slapstick, or satire that tickles your funny bone, everyone has a style that incites them to laughter. Humor is more than entertainment, however. It contributes to your overall wellness, which makes it doubly desirable. Not all of us can have a Tina Fey in the family or share an office with Steve Carrell, but there are ways to deliberately increase the amount of laughter we experience.
Healthy Side of Laughter
A trip with your funniest friends or a night of standup comedy may seem like a short-term diversion from more serious matters in life, but laughter can also have long-term benefits. An article on the Mayo Clinic website shares some of the ways laughter has a physical effect on your body:
Stress relief - The physical effects of laughing modify your stress response, first by stimulating it and then cooling it down to a state of relaxation. The same also occurs in your heart, which reduces your blood pressure.
Organ stimulation - The air you inhale when you laugh is rich in oxygen, which stimulates the heart, lungs, and muscles. Hearty laughter is a workout for your chest muscles too.
Immunity boost - While negative thoughts activate chemicals that suppress your immune system, positive thoughts stimulate the release of neuropeptides that help fight the development of serious illnesses.
Pain reduction - Research shows that laughing may cause your body to release endorphins as natural painkillers.
Finding the Funny Side
Laughter is a form of self-care, says an article on the Everyday Health website. When you choose to bring lightheartedness into your life, you’re stimulating gamma waves in your brain, which are responsible for energy invigoration and cognitive function. Benefits don’t require laughing out loud; just looking at things differently to find some humor can release tension and boost your energy.
Dr. Jennifer Ashton, chief medical correspondent for ABC News, tapped into these benefits through a month-long laughter challenge. She came up with tips for embracing the playful inner child that gives you access to laughter.
Don’t try to be funny - Experiencing laughter doesn’t require you to be clever or learn to tell jokes. “Humor is not a talent, it’s a habit,” says comedian Paul Osincup, president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. You simply choose to find the humor in typically frustrating situations, such as a spilled cup of coffee or a professional faux pas.
Schedule time for lightheartedness - By setting your alarm throughout the day you can take scheduled breaks to get inspired. Take a few minutes to pull up the Saturday Night Live YouTube channel -- or some other channel that tickles your fancy -- or call a funny friend.
Try a comedy journal - Like the popular practice of finding daily gratitude, every evening you can reflect on three amusing things that happened during the day. A 2018 study in positive psychology shows a causal relationship between keeping a humor journal and a decrease in symptoms of depression.
Take yourself less seriously - If you’re a brain surgeon or have a demanding career of another kind, you may be cautious about taking things lightly. On the personal side of things, however, laughing at your mistakes can help you put situations in perspective and help you move past hardship.
Lightening Up by Lightening Your Load
Sometimes it helps to make room for lighthearted laughter by reducing the weight of burdensome, stress-producing aspects of life. An article in Psychology Today offers suggestions for off-loading unnecessary stressors.
Using the analogy of a backpack, author Rick Hanson, PhD, points out how much easier it is to lighten up when you release some of the emotional burdens you carry unnecessarily. Weighty articles in your backpack may include:
You have the power to reduce your responsibilities and realign your schedule with your values. The process lifts your mood, making it easier to become amused and engage in laughter. Take some time to assess the burdensome tasks and relationships that affect your psyche and become more deliberate about what you do and who you include in your circle of loved ones. You may want to step away from such roles as mediator between feuding family members or dating advisor to friends. Set a goal to say “no” to new obligations for a period of time to determine the space you have for something new.
From Seinfeld-style observational humor to self-effacing cracks with your co-workers, there are many ways to access the lighter side of things. You can expand your bandwidth for laughter by off-loading what’s draining you and taking in some new ways of looking at life.
After all, sticks and stones may break your bones, but comedy can heal you.
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