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Laughter is Good Medicine

A good laugh is good for your health

Thursday, April 19, 2018

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Old-time comedian Milton Berle once said, “Laughter is an instant vacation.” Berle spoke the truth. When you laugh aloud, you can’t be anxious, sad, angry, or even just blah. Laughter is pure joy; but it is more than that. Laughter is good medicine. (Conversely, being grumpy is bad medicine!) Since ancient times, people have understood the connection between a merry, jovial heart and good health. Studies show that laughter and a good sense of humor can literally ward off or at least diminish disease. 

Some of the most impressive studies in this field come from Norway. Dr. Sven Svenbak of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology tracked 54,000 Norwegians for seven years and discovered that those individuals who found life the funniest lived longer. In fact, people were 35% more likely to survive longer.  In 2015, the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, published the “A 15-Year Follow Up Study of Sense of Humor and Causes of Mortality.” The study followed over 53,000 participants and found a sense of humor was positively associated with survival for people with cardiovascular disease and infections. A sense of humor provides a very real health protecting and coping mechanism that ultimately leads to longer life.

Other studies show that hearty laughter, just like exercise, decreases arterial stiffness, contributes to better blood sugar regulation in diabetics, and can improve cancer-killing cells. Not surprisingly, laughter can also decrease stress, increase pain tolerance, reduce depression, and improve overall quality of life.

But let’s face it, sometimes life is not funny. Especially as we age, finances, family issues, job stresses, and serious illnesses can bring us down. No one is immune to the realities of the world. Humor, however, helps us get through those difficult times. The real benefit of humor, however, is cumulative. Finding humor in everyday life over the course of decades benefits our mind, soul, and body. Unfortunately, many adults suffer from terminal seriousness. Childhood play and laughter is replaced with grumpiness, sarcasm, and mean-spirited jabs. The good news is that we can recapture youthful mirth with a little effort. 

Here are some suggestions from the experts at Helpguide.org:

Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter and like laughter, it’s contagious. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling. Instead of looking down at your phone, look up and smile at people.

Count your blessings. Literally, make a list. The simple act of considering the good things in your life will distance you from negative thoughts that are a barrier to humor and laughter. When you are in a state of sadness, you have further to travel to get to humor and laughter.

When you hear laughter, move toward it. Sometimes humor and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but usually not. More often, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask, “What’s funny?”

Spend time with fun, playful people. These are people who laugh easily–both at themselves and at life’s absurdities–and who routinely find the humor in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter are contagious. Even if you do not consider yourself a lighthearted, humorous person, you can still seek out people who like to laugh and make others laugh.

Bring humor into conversations. Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?”

Laugh at yourself. Share your embarrassing moments. The best way to take yourself less seriously is to talk about times when you took yourself too seriously.

Attempt to laugh at situations rather than bemoan them. Look for the humor in a bad situation, and uncover the irony and absurdity of life. When something negative happens, try to find a way to make it a humorous anecdote that will make others laugh.

Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up. Keep a toy on your desk or in your car. Put up a funny poster in your office. Choose a computer screensaver that makes you laugh. Frame photos of you and your family or friends having fun.

Remember funny things that happen. If something amusing happens or you hear a joke or funny story you really like, write it down or tell it to someone else to help you remember it.

Do not dwell on the negative. Try to avoid negative people and don’t dwell on news stories, entertainment, or conversations that make you sad or unhappy. Many things in life are beyond your control—particularly the behavior of other people.

Find your inner child. Pay attention to children and try to emulate them—after all, they are the experts on playing, taking life lightly, and laughing at ordinary things.

Deal with stress. Stress can be a major impediment to humor and laughter, so it's important to get your stress levels in check. One great technique to relieve stress in the moment is to draw upon a favorite memory that always makes you smile—something your kids did, for example, or something funny a friend told you.

Don’t go a day without laughing. Think of it like exercise or breakfast and make a conscious effort to find something each day that makes you laugh. Set aside 10 to 15 minutes and do something that amuses you. The more you get used to laughing each day, the less effort you’ll have to make.

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville, NY. To ask questions or discuss health topics, contact Lorraine at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or (585)335-4327. 

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Mary Sue Dehn

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