Laughter is the Best Medicine - True or False?
Laughter is strong medicine; it draws people in such a way that it triggers positive physical and emotional changes in the body. Laughter strengthens the immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and reduces stress. It is probably the fastest and most dependable way to bring your mind and body back into equilibrium. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hope, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert. It also helps release anger and forgive easily.
Benefits of laughter
- Laughter helps relax the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving the muscles relaxed up to 45 minutes.
- Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter reduces stress and increases the immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, improving your overall ability to fight disease.
- Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can help relieve pain. Dopamine is produced which has a positive effect on mood, behavior, cognition, sleep, movement, and memory.
- Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the functioning of the blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help against cardiovascular problems.
- Laughter burns calories. Though it is not a replacement for going to the gym. It has been found that 10-15 minutes of laughter a day can burn up to 40 calories- which is enough to lose 2 kgs over the course of a year.
- The laughter stops distressing emotions. It eases tension and anxiety.
- Laughter shifts perspective; allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective helps create a psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling the overwhelmed and diffuse conflict.
- Laughter draws you closer to others. Encourages good rapport and connection with others. Helps develop resilience.
- Laughter promotes brain connectivity. It improves memory and alertness, brain function, and increases creativity.
- Laughter helps boost self-esteem
Laughter makes you feel good. The positive feeling remains with you even after the laughter subsides. Humor helps keep a positive outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss. It not only provides respite from sadness and pain but also gives you the courage and strength to find new meaning and hope. Even in the most difficult times, a laugh can go a long way towards making you feel better. Laughter is really contagious- just hearing someone laugh primes your brain and readies you to smile and join in the fun! Laughter is a therapy that aims to get people laughing both individually and, in a group, to help reduce stress, make people happier and more committed and improve interpersonal skills.
Many people have contributed to the history of the therapeutic use of laughter. In 1979, Norman Cousins publishes a book ‘Anatomy of an Illness’ in which he describes his own encounter with a fatal disease. He was unable to move and was in constant pain. During this period, he discovered the benefits of humor. He found that ten minutes of mirthful laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep. His experience gave rise to a lot of research in the field.
Dr. William Fry began examining the physiological effects of laughter in the late 1960s and is considered as the father of ‘gelotology’ (the science of laughter). He proved that mirthful laughter provides good physical exercise and can decrease the chances of respiratory infection. He showed that laughter causes the body to release endorphins (natural painkillers).
Dr. Annette Goodheart a psychotherapist and the inventor of laughter therapy believed that different laughs can fight different mental states. However, it is also true that smiling and subsequently laughing boosts immune function irrespective of the genuineness or fakeness.
In March 1995 Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from Mumbai, India discovered that the body cannot differentiate between acted and genuine laughter. He then created a range of laughter exercises including role-play and set up laughter clubs around the world.
Laughter therapy isn’t just about laughing, it is not solely achieved by watching something funny. It is about creating a safe space for laughing, where therapy can be executed. It may take place in ‘humor rooms’ in hospitals, groups, or individual sessions with psychologists or in the form of yoga, where you can read a book, watch a show or play with toys.
A typical laughter therapy session would have a therapist, guiding the entire session. It is aimed at cultivating childlike playfulness and it is usually done in groups to improve social connect.
It consists of 4 steps
1) Clapping and warm-up exercises that help build positive energy in the group.
2) Deep breathing exercises that help bring mental and physical relaxation.
3) Childlike playfulness that helps bring about happy mood and laughter.
4) Laughter exercises that may involve games and narrating funny experiences.
Why Laughter is Important?
It is important to remember that humor is highly subjective- what makes a person giggle might put another person to sleep. Part of laughter therapy is figuring out what tickles your funny bone so that the healing process is as smooth as possible without any fear. Figuring out what makes you happy and cultivating the ability to find humor and laughter in everyday situations, can relieve the stress and tension that comes along with life’s challenges. It doesn’t mean that you ignore the difficult situations but by choosing to laugh you remain in control and are saving your energy to fight.
While you may be laughing through anxiety and pain, the actual act of laughing shouldn’t hurt. As laughter can cause a little physical strain. Laughter therapy may not be advisable for pregnant women or those who might have recently undergone intensive surgery. If it’s a group process, be careful of anyone with a cold or flu who may laugh their germs to everyone around.
Laughter is more than just a feel-good emotion, and its benefits spread beyond a happy face. It’s for this reason, and scientific backing, that laughter therapy continues to be recognized as a mode of intervention for various health issues. It’s been proven to leave you refreshed, motivated, emotionally secure, and calm even on tough days. So, why not take a laughter therapy session and laugh your way to great health?