13 Apr It’s Time To Take Our Laughter Seriously
Okay, it’s true confessions time! When was the last time you wrote ‘LOL’ in a text message, and you weren’t really laughing? How long has it been since something struck you so funny that you burst out in uproarious laughter?
If it’s been awhile since you engaged in thunderous laughter, maybe it’s time for you to yuk it up a little more. We know laughing feels great, but the latest research provides evidence showing that vigorous doses of laughter are like medicine for our minds, bodies, and spirits.
Now that scientists are sharing how central humor is to superior health, it is surprising how little attention has been paid to laughter and merriment over the years. That is because most scientists preferred to tackle cures for cancer, baldness, and impotence instead of forging into studying the important, but mystifying, attributes of the human ‘funny bone.’
Researchers Measure Ha-ha and Ho-ho Levels In Atypical Comedy Clubs
Although a functional Magnetic Research Imaging (fMRI) research lab seems a rather strange place to conduct studies on the affects of laughter on human brains, gallant medical teams have set out to learn all they can about how silly cartoons and humorous sitcoms affect human health.
Conducting the research is simple. Research subjects are simply asked to push buttons on hand-held devices that are programmed to measure the hilarity-level of funny moments in TV shows they view. (Think, for example, about the I Love Lucy episode featuring Lucy and Ethel working in the chocolate factory.) While research study participants kick back and watch TV, the scientists measure their bodily functions and blood flow to various regions of their brain.
Interestingly enough, the scientific testing confirms that the funnier the humorous antics were rated by viewers, the harder they worked their brains! Although slapstick humor (such as The Three Stooges) is funny enough to stimulate the brain, more complex, nuanced humor provides a higher level cognitive workout for viewers. Think about that the next time you engage in side-splitting laughter while watching Comedy Central, folks.
Scientists estimate that if you tried to purchase all the positive chemicals your body produces when you engage in belly-busting laughter, the list would carry a hefty price tag. If the chemical compounds that your body produces while laughing were available for purchase at a pharmaceutical lab, the price is believed to be approximately $10,000 per shot! Astounding!
There may be days when you don’t feel like laughing. I recommend that you pop some popcorn and watch the classic Robin Williams movie, Patch Adams. Then consider some of the mind-boggling benefits of laughter summarized below:
- Laughter boosts your immune system. Need a powerful warrior against flu and Upper Respiratory Infections? Laughter increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies.
- Laughter relaxes your entire body and lightens your burdens. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and reduces stress-inducing cortisol levels. Research shows that your muscles may stay in a relaxed state for up to 45 minutes following a long bout of laughter.
- Laughter triggers the release of feel-good, ‘runner’s high’ endorphins. Laughter—like any good workout— pumps endorphins as well as dopamine into your bloodstream. In addition, serotonin and other joyful-mood chemicals are released to rejuvenate your spirit.
- Laughter protects your heart. Since laughter increases your blood flow, it absolutely improves the function of your blood vessels. This, in turn, lowers blood pressure and risks of heart malfunction.
- Laughter enhances your mental clarity. Stress and negative emotions act like brakes for your brain’s prefrontal cortex. So when you try to solve problems, the executive decision-making part of your brain seems stuck. When this happens, more primitive areas of your brain grab the thinking wheel. When you laugh, a mental re-set button is triggered, and your mind miraculously clears.
When You Can’t Laugh Authentically…Fake It!
Here is a little assignment for you. Set a timer for one minute, and then laugh as vigorously as you can until the timer stops. Then note how you feel afterwards.
Laughter researchers assure us that genuine or forced laughter produces the same positive benefits on the body and brain. Amazing!
So take some time every day to whoop it up a bit. Try laughing in traffic, laugh with your dogs, laugh when you feel groggy, laugh at yourself when you look in the mirror in the morning! Researchers tell us that when we fake our laughter, it also may progress to authentic laughter because we feel so ridiculous. Hey, it’s worth a try!
I have become such a proponent of laughter that I often invite local comics and certified laughter yoga instructors to be guest speakers in my Octane for the Brain workshops. The laugh-fests they stimulate are incredible. If you want to find a laughter yoga instructor or comic to visit a meeting in your local area, do a Google search right away. I assure you that the laughter facilitator or comic will turn your ordinary meeting into a rip-roaring hoot that participants will long remember.
How Inventive Is the Research About the Benefits of Laughter?
While researchers today continue to validate and publish laughter’s significant health benefits, be aware that what you are reading is not exactly ’21st century cutting-edge science.’ It’s amusing to discover that the Bible has offered this practical wisdom for thousands of years!
“A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)