By: Lisa Philippart
As early as the 13th century, physicians used humor in medicine to alleviate pain. Often, stories were told using dark comedy or “gallows” humor to distract patients from their physical pain. But by the 20th century, researchers began to study the science behind laughter’s visible healing benefits. Norman Cousins, a political journalist and editor of the New York Evening Post discovered that watching funny movies helped decrease his pain and helped him eventually recover from a life-threatening illness. In 1979, Cousins’ book, Anatomy of an Illness, described his experience and laid the groundwork for laughter therapy and its power to heal.
Today, we know that laughter therapy can provide physical, mental, and social benefits. Physically, laughter increases your oxygen intake, relaxes muscles throughout the body, stimulates your heart and lungs, and even boosts your immunity. Research also shows that laughter produces melatonin, which helps you sleep. A good hearty laugh releases endorphins in your body, the natural feel-good chemicals, which can promote an overall sense of wellbeing and relieve pain. Mentally, laughter can reduce stress and anxiety, improve overall attitude, promote relaxation, and even lower depression levels. Need to lighten anger’s heavy load? Nothing diffuses anger and frustration faster than a shared laugh. Looking at the funny side can put problems into perspective and enable you to move on. Laughter may even help you to live longer through strengthening your resilience. A study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humor outlived those who didn’t laugh as much.
Socially, laughter can strengthen relationships, attract others to us and us to others, enhance teamwork, and help diffuse conflict. Laughter makes you feel good, and that good feeling stays with you even after the laughter subsides. So, what exactly is laughter therapy? Laughter or humor therapy is the use of humor to promote overall health and wellness by using the natural physiological process of laughter to help relieve physical or emotional stresses or discomfort. Mental health therapists can receive training to learn specific techniques to use laughter as a healing tool. But you can learn how to practice laughter therapy on your own. Here are some ways to start:
1. Spend time with fun/playful people. Have you noticed that some people are just naturally funny? These people laugh easily, both at themselves and at life’s silliness. Even if you don’t consider yourself lighthearted, you can still seek out people who like to laugh and to make others laugh.
2. Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter, and like laughter, is contagious. When you look at someone or see something pleasing, practice smiling. Then notice the effect it has on you and on others.
3. Create a laughter file. Either electronically or hard copy, collect items that make you laugh. I keep a file folder of funny stories, photos, comics, and letters that I know will cheer me up and make me laugh over and over again.
4. Play with a pet. Your pet just naturally loves to play and have fun. And dog owners laugh more frequently!
5. Watch a funny movie, TV show, or YouTube video. I’ll bet you have a movie that you watch over and over again, and you laugh just as hard every time. Or you can subscribe to your favorite comedian on YouTube, to receive the latest episodes.
6. Count your blessings. Make a list. Simply considering the good things in your life will distance you from those negative thoughts that create a barrier to laughter. When you are sad, you have further to travel to get to humor.
The ability to laugh, play, and have fun with others will not only make life more enjoyable, but also help you to be more creative and connect with others. Laughter raises you up to a place where your perspective becomes more relaxed, positive, and joyful. Have a good laugh!……Lisa