A growing research base suggests that laughter is good medicine and Big Pharma is not amused at this. I suppose this is just another in a long list of issues that Big Pharma and I are going to have to agree to disagree about. Like, for instance, I think their acronym is lame. Why go to the trouble of calling yourself PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) when a graphic of a pirate holding a test tube would identify them without any letters?
I’m not suggesting you stop taking your allergy meds or ditch the Thyroid pills you need, but…as you read this, you could try turning the corners of your mouth up into a smile and chuckling. Sure, it may feel forced, but once you’ve done it, do a quick review of how you feel noting whether there’s a little bit less tension in your muscles. Do you feel a little more relaxed or buoyant? [i] That’s the laughter working, or it may be your partner tickling you. NOTE: I am not prescribing the fake laughter or random acts of tickle, but there are worse things.
How does laughter impact our health and well-being? A paper by Emma Seppala of Stanford U’s Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute notes seven ways laughter can improve well-being and suggests that we really need to take our laughter more seriously (that pun is irresistible)[ii]
- It can improve relationships and make us more open to new relationships or interactions with more or new people (research by Alan Gray of University College London )
- It may boost and sharpen memory and decrease stress by lowering our body’s release of the stress hormone, cortisol, especially among older people (noted in a study by researchers at Loma Linda University)
- A Yale psychologist Erica J. Boothby, PhD and colleagues found that laughter may help regulate emotions in the face of challenge, thus increasing resiliency—think of how we sometimes deploy nervous laughter when in a difficult/awkward situation (study)
- In a study of diabetics, Lee S. Berk, PhD, and Stanley A. Tan, MD, of Loma Linda University found that laughing can lower stress and inflammation and increase good cholesterol…so if you’ve ever cracked up telling a joke or a story, you may have helped your health since another Berk and Tan study found evidence that merely anticipating a funny event boosted immune function and reduced stress-related hormones
- If you can remember a funny class or teacher who made you laugh, that may offer a personal proof of concept for research findings by Mark Shatz, PhD, and Frank LoSchiavo, PhD, of Ohio University that show that a good laugh while learning new material will help you engage with it more
- Another study by Shatz and LoSchiavo shows that humor and playfulness are highly valued traits in potential romantic partners so laughter can make you more attractive
- Sophie Scott, PhD, of Univ College London’s research found that laughter can help make the world a better place: it’s contagious and it’s hard to hate or be mean while laughing
An article by the Mayo Clinic staff drives home the idea that laughing for health is, ahem, no joke[iii] and rather than some crazy thing your dad or I told you after yet another cornball joke, it may be just what the doctor ordered. It doesn’t matter if you crack up watching a sitcom, quietly giggle watching a comic perform on a streaming video or at a newspaper cartoon, or go to a standup show, laughter may be the perfect way to blow off some stress.
In the short-term laughter induces physical changes in your body by:
- enhancing your intake of oxygen-rich air,
- stimulating your heart, lungs and muscles,
- increasing the endorphins that are released by your brain
- activating and relieving stress response by sparking, then cooling your stress response, and increasing, then decreasing heart rate and blood pressure resulting in a relaxed you,
- laughter soothes tension you may feel and stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress
Over the longer term, laughter promotes well-being by
- improving your immune system by reducing negative thoughts that drive chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity,
- laughter brings positive thoughts that release neuropeptides which help fight stress and reduce susceptibility to serious illnesses,
- laughter relieves pain by causing the body to produce natural painkillers,
- it increases personal satisfaction thus enhancing coping skills you need for difficult situations and making it easier to connect with other people,
- it improves your mood to help fight off depression and anxiety and increases your moments of happiness which can improve your self-esteem
Your Rx: Actively seek to share humor, regardless of whether or not you (or the boss) think you are funny because today’s world puts humor at your fingertips…and it can be developed.
Put humor on your horizon. Find a few simple items, such as photos, greeting cards or comic strips, that make you chuckle. Then hang them up at home or in your office, or collect them in a file or notebook. Keep funny movies, TV shows, books, magazines or comedy videos on hand for when you need an added humor boost. Look online at joke websites or silly videos. Listen to humorous podcasts. Go to a comedy club.
Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away. Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.
Or consider trying laughter yoga, a practice where people engage in laughter as a group. Laughter is forced at first, but it can soon turn into spontaneous laughter.
Find people with whom you can share a laugh and make it a habit to spend time with friends who make you laugh. Then return the favor by sharing funny stories or jokes with those around you.
Knock, knock. Browse through your local bookstore or library’s selection of joke books and add a few jokes to your list that you can share with friends.
Know what isn’t funny. Don’t laugh at the expense of others. Some forms of humor aren’t appropriate. Use your best judgment to discern a good joke from a bad or hurtful one.