The Benefits of Laughter
Laughter really is the best medicine, or at least a good one. Laughter is so much a part of us that even babies can laugh well before they can walk or speak. And mirthful laughter—the kind associated with humor—can help keep you healthy and happier.
Although no one really knows exactly how laughter so positively affects health, researchers do know that when you are laughing, you're providing healthy stimulation for your heart and blood vessels. Laughter can actually reduce the amount of stress hormones your body releases; these hormones can have a detrimental effect on your heart and other areas of your body.
In fact, research shows that good humor and laughter may:
Buffer you against depression
Reduce stress and the impact of stress on the body
Reduce loneliness and increase bonding with others
Improve quality of life, even for people coping with cancer or chronic disease
Increase immunity—your body's ability to fight infection
Improve pain tolerance
Laughter and being in good humor may also reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attack.
Laughter and good humor have such all-around benefits that it wouldn't be surprising to see them on the prescription pad as recommendations for your overall health. Some researchers even suggest that doctors ask patients about their "laugh history" because humor is so important in maintaining a high quality of life. Interestingly, studies have shown that the benefits of laughter are the same in different countries and cultures, even though what's thought of as funny might be different.
Seeking good humor
If you're someone who doesn't laugh as much as you'd like, you have a number of ways to get started on your own adventure toward a better sense of humor:
Get a "dose" of humor. Stop sitting around waiting for someone or something funny to come your way—go out and get it! Rent a funny movie, hang out with your silliest friend, read a funny book, make time for your favorite sitcom, or check out the local stand-up comedy show. Do whatever it takes to tickle your funny bone.
Practice laughing. Laugh yoga is becoming increasingly popular. Basically, this brief exercise teaches you how to laugh. Practitioners say that the more you practice, the more you also laugh freely during your day. Find laughing groups near you at www.laughteryoga.org.
Laugh down memory lane. Even if today isn't funny, you probably have some amusing memories. Revisit those times. If possible, take this trip down memory lane in the company of people who can share your laughter.
Seek professional help if you're down in the dumps. Sometimes depression, grief, anger, and other emotions and conditions make it seem like laughter is impossible. If you feel like you'll never laugh again, even though you want to, you might want to talk with your family doctor or a mental health professional about your situation.
If you can embrace the funnier side of life despite stress, your busy schedule, and anything else that may be getting you down, you may laugh your way to better health.
- Nelson, Gail A., MS, APRN, BC
- newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician