My article on laughter was first published in Affinity magazine last May – but we could all do with a reminder of how good it is for us to laugh!! http://www.affinitymag.co.uk/learning-to-love-a-good-laugh/ so here it is again.
I must confess that in my opinion one of the best sounds on earth is that of children laughing. It is infectious and raises my spirits every time I hear it. It is hard to hear a person laughing without somehow ending up laughing yourself. Well the good news is that laughter actually does us a lot of good.
“A day without laughter is a day wasted.” Charlie Chaplin
What Happens When We Laugh
Apparently there are 15 muscles in the face alone that contract when we laugh and as it spreads through the body many other muscles contract, but then relax – some may become uncoordinated so a really good giggle can make you unable to walk straight for example. Our eyes water and in some ways our body becomes a bit out of control and of course we have all had the experience of irresistible giggles especially in situations where we feel we shouldn’t be laughing. It also has an effect on our respiratory system and breathing becomes irregular but overall our oxygen intake increases. So in many ways it is like a workout.
“Laughing is and always will be the best form of therapy ” Dau Voire
Impact on Mental Health
We probably all know that laughter improves our mood and that it can help if we feel anxious. I remember working in an Intensive Care Unit where there were times of massive tension and distress and yet it was probably one of the jobs in which I laughed the most. Not because we minimized the distress of our patients and family, quite the opposite, laughter was a release of the tension and anxiety that as staff we felt because it was a high pressure setting. Over time laughter can help us all to become more resilient, the impact of laughter doesn’t stop when we stop laughing – the positive impact on our mood can last for many more hours.
“Always laugh when you can. It’s cheap medicine.” Lord Byron
Impact on Physical Health
Laughing releases tension, in fact when we are laughing muscles relax and stay relaxed for some time after afterwards. But there is also evidence to suggest that laughter boosts our immune system and can even help improve heart health (the heart is after all a muscle) as it can increase blood flow. In addition when we laugh we release endorphins which are hormones that increase our sense of well-being – the feel good factor and because of this laughter can sometimes reduce pain. In his book The Master Key System Charles F Haanel makes the claim that people who have been ill have improved their health and condition simply through laughter.
“I have not seen anyone dying of laughter but I have seen millions who are dying because they are not laughing.” Dr Madan Kataria
Impact on Social Well being
Laughter is contagious and it is fun. You may have seen a very popular video on social media recently which starts simply with one man on a train laughing and ends with everyone on the train laughing. People who laugh together are likely to work well as a team – somehow laughter creates a bond. If you walk into a party or even a new office you are likely to be drawn to people who laugh or smile rather than the ones who look depressed or down. Many of us will have had times when things may have looked bleak and the response would be either to cry or conversely to laugh. Amazingly if we are able to choose the latter often things start to look a little better because we start to feel more positive.
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”
Impact on stress
Unsurprisingly a good laugh helps reduce our levels of stress and in fact there is new branch of therapy called ‘laughter therapy’. Its aim is simple – to get you to laugh. Now cynics reading this will probably be thinking that it can’t be good for us if it is not genuine but apparently our brain finds it tricky to distinguish between real and ‘fake’ laughter so all the beneficial elements are there. And if we start out laughing in a slightly forced way in fact it quickly becomes real. A good burst of laughter will leave us feeling relaxed, buoyant and possibly exhausted – in effect it is like a good workout.
“Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” Mark Twain.
Impact on Success
Success may well take hard work, dedication and commitment but success comes more easily when we enjoy what we do. We may still be working hard but if we love what we do and enjoy the process we are likely to stay motivated and work harder so enjoying a good laugh and spending time with people who make us laugh is even likely to help us to be more successful.
“There is little success where there is little laughter.” Andrew Carnegie
How can We Laugh More
So if it is that good for us we need to do it more! It can protect us against depression and stress and improve anxiety so let’s get laughing. We all have our own preferences, slapstick, a good stand up, a clever joke or a funny film, but actually while we may laugh alone we are much more likely to laugh when we are with others. In fact often we choose our social groups to be with those who make us laugh – why because quite simply they make us feel better. The cycle often goes, less time for social activities, because of work or illness for example which leads to greater isolation, less opportunities to laugh and increased feelings of sadness. But that can be changed – if you want to get laughing listen to some laughter and join in – it will be hard not to!
“Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age and dreams are forever.” Walt Disney
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