By Eleonora Cerasoli
Laughing is one of our most basic emotional responses; it is as natural as breathing. But do we really know how beneficial laughter can be for our body and mind? Laughter brings numerous psychological and physiological health benefits and it is important to remind ourselves to laugh every day.
Then what do we do when our lives, our mood, our routines don’t allow us to laugh? The pandemic has certainly been a challenge for many of us, and finding reasons to laugh has not been easy in this past year.
The news is that we don’t have to wait for a reason to laugh to experience the benefits that laughter has on our bodies and souls. Let’s celebrate International Laughter Day by making laughter a new form of self-love.
Let’s think about it as if it was part of our daily routine, as stretching, taking vitamins, or going for a walk or a jog outside.
Science has done amazing progress in this field, and gelotology = the study of the activity of laughing and its effects on the body, identified in laughter a possible remedy to many psychological disorders, as well as an easy ally of our physical health.
Laughing is really the best medicine for your body
We’ve all heard the phrase “Laughter is the best medicine”, but is it just an old myth or is this saying actually based on scientific facts? A study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine coined the term “Laughter Prescription”, indicating that doctors who prescribe laughter to their patients will have access to easily dispensable positive benefits.
What are some of the health benefits of laughter on our body?
- Strengthens your immune system and helps you live longer
Many studies have demonstrated that laughing more frequently can increase life expectancy by up to 8 years. Happy people tend to experience better health and live longer lives. Our immune system benefits from laughter as it increases the number of protective cells that help fight infections. It also lowers the anti-ageing hormone that helps keep us young.
- Improves breathing and lower the chances of heart diseases
When we laugh we start breathing faster and the blood pressure rises. This increases the level of oxygen in our blood, improving our vascular function. As a consequence, it helps to reduce the risk of heart diseases.
- Helps with diabetes
An experiment conducted on diabetic patients showed that laughter paired with a standard therapy for diabetes can reduce stress and inflammation while increasing the levels of good cholesterol.
- Is a natural pain killer
The act of laughter increases the release of dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward. The release of endorphins and feel-good hormones has a calming effect on pain. Research from Oxford University showed how periods of intense laughter increase pain tolerance.
- Increases memory
A study from the FASEB shows that watching a funny video increased memory as well as learning ability in people. Humour reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory neurons and lower your blood pressure.
- Increases productivity
Laughter is part of a universal language of basic emotions that all humans recognize. A study by the American Psychological Society shows that educators and health care providers could use the power of laughter to improve teaching and learning. Laughter improves student performance by attracting and sustaining attention, reducing anxiety and increasing participation and motivation.
The various physiological benefits laughter has are only half of the amazing advantages it can bring into our lives. Introducing more laughter into your routines will be beneficial not only for your body but for your mind and spirit.
2 simple ways to bring more laughter into your life
1. Laughter is the new ingredient in your self-care routine
Self-care routines have become a must in our lives, and it is wonderful to see that we’re giving the right importance to quality time spent with ourselves. We take a long bubble bath at the end of a stressful day at work; we try to squeeze 15 minutes of reading before life calls us back to reality.
We need to be the first ones caring for ourselves and laughter, for its numerous psychological benefits, is the act of self-love your routine was missing!
Laughter Therapy as a stress relief
Laughter is a wonderful way to reduce stress, says Emma Lauer, lead therapist at Find Your Shine Therapy. It increases the feel-good endorphins that are released by your brain, as well as your oxygen intake, which in turn stimulates the rest of your body. It can also decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, two health issues associated with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder).
Endorphins have a powerful analgesic and are often released by our body in particularly stressful situations as a form of defence to better tolerate both physical and psychological pain. They can give pleasure, gratification and happiness by helping to manage stress.
Laughing your way through life
Having a good laugh can help us through our darkest times. It can be beneficial for people struggling with anxiety, or even eating disorders. Emma says that it can aid in eating disorder treatment as laughter helps us practice embodiment, which means that we are mindfully present in our bodies, in the moment, rather than seeing our bodies from an outside perspective or as an object to be viewed by others.
Joel Goodman, founding father of The Humor Project once said:
“Humour prevents a hardening of the attitudes”
Sometimes we feel like drowning in our problems, the anxiety and stress threaten our mental health. The momentary break we get from laughter give us relief, a breathing space to gain energy and start facing the issues more calmly and efficiently.
2. Laughter Yoga: how to laugh when you’re not in the mood
What is Laughter Yoga?
Lotte defines Laughter Yoga as:
“an amazing way of laughing with intention, without relying on anyone or anything to trigger the laughter. We don’t even need to have a great sense of humour when we choose to laugh without cause.”
Laughter Yoga instantly brings you to the present moment and is easy for anyone without the need to be particularly bendy or athletic. It has definitely evolved from being a more physical act of laughter to one that is deeply connecting with yourself on all levels. Like Yoga, it brings equilibrium and unity to our body, mind and spirit.
Why is it important to make yourself laugh?
It is easy to laugh even when you are not in the mood, says Lotte. You start with a simple ‘hahaha’, and with willingness, it can become a real laugh when you look at yourself in the mirror. This is one of the first steps to adopting laughter as a self-care practice. It is essential for our overall health because much too often we wait for our laughter to be triggered, and for many people, especially over the past year, laughter has not been easily found.
When we laugh we remove thought and giving ourselves permission to laugh deeply paves the way for the release of old stored emotional baggage and trauma. Laughter can flow into tears and back again when catharsis happens. Sometimes we need to laugh before we can cry and vice versa to remove the limitations and inhibitions we have placed on ourselves through long-term conditioning
We sometimes have seemingly inappropriate responses to emotional situations (crying while laughing, nervous laughter, etc.). According to Dr Oriana R. Aragón, a Yale University psychologist, we cry when we laugh so hard because the body is trying to regulate itself in response to strong emotions. Crying while laughing occurs because both reactions are a result of increased emotion. By crying, the body attempts to return to a regular level of functioning.
How can we incorporate Laughter Yoga into our daily life?
Lotte says that stretching awakes our bodies and improves our flexibility, mobility and circulation. It is important to stretch your facial muscles into a smile. Even if it does not feel like you can smile, just do it. When you step out of bed add a little ‘hahaha’ on the way to the bathroom or kitchen and make sure you get eye contact with yourself when you pass a mirror.
- Call The Telephone Laughter Club
Lotte runs it from 7 a.m. to 7.10 a.m. Monday to Friday and it’s a great way to start the day with laughter, together with others. No one has to laugh when dialing in; just listening can be equally beneficial
What makes our Editors laugh: a list of humorous suggestions
As finding reasons to laugh can be hard in the everyday life, this is a list of little things that spark happiness in our editors. They can serve as an inspiration and a reminder that laughter can surprise you through the most unexpected things.
- Sophie lifts her mood by looking at old pictures and reminiscing about special moments.
- Fiona loves to dress up in fancy gowns and have a zoom disco party. Lockdown and restrictions definitely pushed us to get more inventive with our ways of having fun. She proves that we don’t have to give up things that make us happy! Get creative and find a different way to enjoy things you love!
- Even after the 10th time Friends still does the trick for me, and when I want to make myself laugh I watch stand-up comedy shows.
It is definitely more challenging to laugh when you don’t have people around. When I moved to London I didn’t know many people and I was living alone. Having to rely on yourself for laughter can feel unnatural but it’s equally empowering. When I burst into the loudest laughter watching a funny video, I realised I hadn’t laughed in a very long time, and it was very much needed.
Laugh for yourself
Once a day dedicate 5 minutes to incorporate laughter in your self-care routine
Learn how to find happiness in small things
I hope that our suggestions inspired you, and for the conversation to keep going, let us know in the comments if you have any recipe to make you laugh.