Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Health Benefits of Laughter

Laughter is the universal language that symbolizes joy or happiness and often a response to something amusing. The expression of laughter can range from sounds of loud vocal outburst to quiet chuckles that involve facial and bodily movement. Is there good medicine in laughter? If you are spiritual, you may have read in Proverbs 17:22 that: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed or angry spirit dries up the bones”

How can you cheer an angry person? Case Situation: You have a wife who is angry, or mad, to the point that she refuses to talk, (my wife has been this angry on some occasions). If you are concerned about the social and health consequences of her anger, making her laugh might be the best medicine to loosen tension and initiate the dialogue that would erase the anger and later restore health for the family. What can you do in the above case situation? Try the “incongruity theory of laughter”; which states that people laugh when they observe things appear together, that do not normally go well together. Example: with the angry wife, the “incongruity theory of laughter can be applied like this: in a surprise mood, show-up at the dinner table wearing her nightgown (if it fits) and insist on keeping it on till the end of the dinner; - husband in wife’s nightgown! two things that are not expected together. This will likely generate a big laugh. Based on the same theory, you may also try this: put a piece of masking tape over your reading glasses, walk to the dinner table and pretend to read an interesting newspaper article to your angry wife, and children if applicable (masking tape over reading glasses- two things that normally do not appear or expected together; this can also generate a big laugh or chuckle that can loosen the angry wife’s tension. You should thereafter discuss the cause of the anger, and lo and behold, will reap the emotional-health benefit of laughter.

How does laughter lead to good health? Laughter helps us release negative emotions, which when held inside may cause biochemical changes that produce illness. Situations that stimulate laughter differ from one culture to another; hence situation and event that produce laughter in one culture might be offensive in another culture.

Are there interesting research findings about laughter? Yes!, and here is a list: less than 20% of laughter is related to jokes; people are more likely to laugh in groups than when alone; women laugh more often than men; most laughter is in the context of regular conversation, rather than in attempts to stimulate laughs; Speakers laugh more than listeners; males are leading producers of humor; females are the leading laughers; laughter produces activities in cells that attacks viruses and tumor cells, hence frequent laughers are healthier than frequent frowners; it takes 72 muscles to frown and 14 to laugh, hence laughers look younger than frowners; bad feelings lead to bad habits, people with bad feelings frown more and laugh less; people who look at the bright side of things, laugh more often and are healthier; laughing is contagious; those who laugh or smile, make others laugh or smile.

What are other benefits of laugher? Reduction of stress hormones and stress-like symptoms; decrease risk for blood clots, heart attack and stroke; improve immune system to fight off infections; lowered blood pressure and prevention of hypertension; improves respiration, due to the large volume of air exchanged in the laughing process (it is an internal workout); prevention of life-threatening illnesses, and improved circulation which enables the body to look healthier and younger.

What are social and psychological health benefits of laughter? Laughter is a social glue (improves bonding), those who laugh more attract more friends in their lives; improves communications and closeness (people like to be around those who can make them laugh, since laughing lubricates conversation); serves as channel for harmless release of emotions; provides other perspectives in tough times, and increases socialization and enhances communication

How can you make yourself to laugh more often? Practice the three Rs:

  1. Remind yourself to look for something humorous in your life and from others;
  2. Remember the humor when it occurs; and
  3. Retell what happened to someone else.

Individuals who are more relaxed and spontaneous, laugh more, cause the most laughs, are more creative, and often have more friends; they are also healthier, live longer, and also more likely to have healthier marriages. Note: Situations that produce laughter differ from culture to culture, hence as you practice the three Rs, to enjoy “the good medicine” in laughter, try to be culturally sensitive, and never, never make fun of others by laughing at them.

The “Good Medicine” in Laughter
by Youmasu J. Siewe, Ph.D, MPH.

Laughter is a key component of a happy life and it has powerful physical and mental benefits. No matter what you're facing, you can learn to laugh and benefit from its healing ways.

Funny movies, sitcoms, cute toddlers, and a good friend’s jokes can all offer one of the most powerful, natural stress relievers out there: laughter.

“I think one of the best things is that laughter increases your sense of humor,” says Lynda Tourloukis, a certified laughter teacher based in Park Ridge, Ill. A motivational speaker and life coach, Tourloukis says she became interested in the healing benefits of laughter after she and her husband spent a weekend chuckling and guffawing at a seminar offered by the Humor Project, an organization that focuses on "the positive power of humor." Now she trains other laughter teachers and has become a personal laughter advocate.

The Benefits of Laughter
The benefits of a good laugh are wide-ranging and can include protection from emotional issues like depression and improving the health of your heart. Here's what experts know about the health benefits of laughter:

  • Mental health benefits. Although you probably can’t laugh off depression, one of the many benefits of laughter and a sense of humor is that they buffer you against the negatives of life that could lead to depression. As an added bonus, studies show that people who use humor to fight stress also feel less lonely and more positive about themselves.
  • Physical benefits. Although we can’t yet say that a certain number of laughs every day will keep the doctor away, studies show that people who say they laugh a lot also tend to be in good health and generally feel well. Laughter is also one of the most commonly used complementary therapies among cancer patients, who find that one of the benefits of laughter is an improved quality of life.
  • Heart health benefits. Laughter could be healthy for your heart, too. Some research shows that when you laugh, there is an increase in oxygen-rich blood flow in your body, possibly due to the release of endorphins, which create a chemical rush that counters negative feelings and stress. Activities that increase endorphins include a good workout and listening to music you love, and laughter deserves its place on the list with these other stress busters.
Building Laughter Into Your Life
Loving the benefits of laughter but don’t feel like laughing? Sometimes you have to make a conscious effort to laugh. If you’re facing tough times such as a tight budget, work stress, or an illness like cancer, it may help to learn techniques to bring the benefits of laughter into your life. You can try the old stand-by recommendations:
  • Rent a funny movie, read a funny book, or watch a funny sitcom.
  • Spend time with an amusing buddy.
  • Look on the light side: Go places that help you remember good times that have made you laugh in the past.
Or you can join the "laughter movement" to learn about the benefits of laughter while fighting stress:
  • Practice laughter yoga. This specialized combination of yoga breathing techniques and exhalation creates a self-induced “laugh” that provides all the benefits of laughter rooted in humor. You can include this practice in your day by adding a little “ha ha ha” when you shake hands or introduce yourself — to fellow laughter fans, of course! Check out Laughter Yoga International for more information.
  • Find a laughter group. “It’s always my recommendation to get together with other people to laugh. It’s a little hard to laugh alone, unless you have practiced it,” Tourloukis says. At Laughter Yoga International you can search over 6,000 social laughter clubs around the world to find one closest to you.
  • Have a “woohoo!” Tourloukis hosts a free daily laughter call that is only 20 minutes long and ends with a laugh-inducing “woohoo!” But she says anytime you look at the clock, if it’s 20 minutes past the hour, your own “Woohoo!” will help bring a smile to your face.

Any day is a good day to start laughing more, but if you need a more significant date to get started with this goal, pencil it in for the first Sunday of May, World Laughter Day.

Source : Madeline Vann, MPH


Samuel Gultom


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