Tag Archives: Laughter

Laughter Is the Best Medicine

In my opinion, laughter really is the best medicine.  Like a steam bath, it opens up all your pores and lets the bad stuff roll out.  That’s why I use humor on the air – it’s a diagnostic which makes your body, psyche, and soul all feel better.

Laughter seems to have an evolutionary benefit.  Laughter is a feature that we share with other great apes such as the chimpanzee and gorilla, which suggests that it is an ancient behavior.  People of all ages and cultures laugh spontaneously, and they spend quite a bit of time doing it.  Interestingly enough, if you ask most women what traits they want in a man, a sense of humor is usually first or second on the list.

Laughter also operates as a social connector.   Groups are important for human survival, and across evolutionary time, groups got larger and socially more complex, which raises the interesting question about how these groups could be held together. Other primates groom each other to smoothen social interactions, but this is impossible when groups get really large. One solution to this problem is laughter. Through laughing, we can quickly establish a good relationship with each other, and because it is so contagious, it can quickly spread through a crowd.   For example, if you’re watching a movie with other people and someone laughs, there is an instant connection. 

In addition, laughter helps facilitate your capacity to learn new things.  When somebody teaches you something with humor, you usually retain the information better.  That’s why, for example, kids learn faster and better through play-learning. 

Lastly, laughter helps alleviate pain.   When you laugh, endorphins are released in the brain and act as a kind of legal drug inside your head.  According to studies conducted by researchers from Oxford and VU Amsterdam, being exposed to comedy can raise your pain tolerance as much as 50 percent.  I believe the same is true for emotional pain as well.  Humor opens up people to hear things that they are often uncomfortable hearing.  There is even some research on patients which shows that exposure to humor and comedy helps them reduce their medication intake.

Without humor, life would be quite dreary.  Laughter works in the same way as a good massage or an intense jog (but without all the stress on the knees).  It’s relaxing, social, and there are no side effects other than the occasional bad joke.

Learning to Be Joyful

My friend, Patty, called me this morning to ask how I was feeling.  I told her, “Well, I can breathe through my nose, my Eustachian tubes are about 90 percent unclogged from my allergy stuff, I can run around, and nothing hurts – so I’m good.”  We both laughed.  We were just both so grateful for our parts still working and for the opportunities that go with that. 

Finding joy in life is not terribly difficult, but it is a learned skill.  First off, being in a state of joy is not the same thing as being happy.  Joy is more of a deep and profound type of feeling.   Secondly, joy is not innate.  You are not born with it – it’s learned.

Some of you have a tougher time acquiring this skill because you were raised in harsh or negative families.  However, it’s still possible for you to learn – it’s just harder. 

One of the first things you need to do to be joyful is to change the way you talk to yourself.  You need to take all that negative-speak going on in your mind (e.g. “I suck,”  “I’m terrible,”  “I should have never done ___”) quite seriously.  You may flippantly say, “I suck,” but you are really hurting yourself deeply on the inside.  Stop the negative self-talk, and instead, replace it with the phrase, “I could be doing ___.”  By giving yourself some leeway, you’ll have choices and flexibility.  These statements give you room to explore and not feel so bad about yourself.  Tearing yourself down is not motivating.  By saying, “I could have made another choice and the next time I will,” you’re going to provide yourself with a lot more opportunity.

Another thing you can do to experience more joy is to have at least one big laugh each day.  It has been proven that laughter makes you feel better and reduces stress.  Laughter makes hormones that boost immunity and creates beta-endorphins that stave off depression.  Moreover, laughing every day is not all that difficult.  There are copious amounts of things to laugh about: funny articles, comic strips, movies, hilarious memories, etc. 

Another tip: try absorbing nature.  Focus your attention on your natural surroundings.  If you do something as simple as examining a plant leaf by leaf, you’ll improve your attention and begin finding joy in the every day.

Now just to be clear: I’m not saying that you should gloss over the negative, ignore painful emotions, or pretend that everything is OK.   What I am saying is that you should be moving forward and trying to be flexible.   Paying attention and practicing gratitude gives you some peace.

It’s hard, no doubt about it. But just because something is “hard” doesn’t mean it should stop you.

Every day I put up a question at Facebook.com/DrLaura.  Recently, I asked, “What’s your secret for remaining joyful even in the midst of tough times?”  Here are two of the responses:

From Loren:

Last night I was reminded of this as we were traveling down I-5 with our three kids under 4.  They had colds and were coughing constantly while trying to drift off to sleep. We were well on our way and had already stopped three times to accommodate the needs of everyone. My oldest son, 4, started coughing harder and harder in a sleepy daze when he started vomiting.

Ugh! I was so tired – my husband and I had been on a nonstop agenda for weeks and we wanted to escape for a peaceful early Thanksgiving break with family, but now this happened. I know both my husband and I could have very easily argued and been stressed, but I grabbed a blanket, caught all the upchuck, and snapped at my husband desperately, “Pull over!!!” He didn’t want to because of the small shoulder on the road, but he did anyway. Barefoot and now smelly, I got out and assisted my son.  Together, my husband and I worked to switch out the car seat, wipe him down, and change his clothes, and we were back on the road 15 minutes later.

Four minutes after that, the rain started.  We both looked at each other and laughed thinking the same thing, “Well, at least we missed the rain!”

Although it was supposed to be a relaxing vacation, we found joy in the midst of the unexpected, unplanned interruptions of the journey.  My husband offered me his hand and said, “That was good teamwork.”

Now, they certainly have a good marriage.  And here is Deborah’s response:

As the parent of a soldier killed in Iraq, for a while joy didn’t seem to fit my vocabulary or mindset, but with time and meditation, I knew the only way to feel joy again and to honor our son and all those who have sacrificed for our country was to dwell on how they lived, not on how they died, and to let our son’s humor, leadership, and love of family and friends shine as best as I could through myself

I also choose not to keep company for very long with family or acquaintances who thrive on negative thoughts and attitudes. As our son did, I find ways to serve others, which brings much joy. I surround myself with words of positive thoughts by way of motivational books and framed motivational thoughts in each room of my home. As a person who deals with depression, “changing the way I think, speak, or do to the positive” helps keep me balanced with a heart of joy.