“Always laugh; it is the sweetest thing one can do for oneself and one’s fellow human being. When people see the laughing face… their burden is lightened. But do it first for yourself.”   ~Maya Angelou

Health Benefits of Laughter

Last week I was engaged in the never-ending task of picking up the house when the sound of raucous laughter issued from the living room. The screams, yells and attack noises told me there was a full-blown Dad-vs.-kids wrestling match going on, complete with rib-tickling, dive-bombing, and faked surrenders. Just listening to the rise and fall of their joyful noise shifted my mood, making the mundane much more tolerable. Later that night I definitely noticed bedtime went a bit smoother (not my best time of day). And at good-nights, my daughter whispered to her father, “Dad, that was fun.”  I could hear the smile in her voice.

There are so many ways to benefit from laughter. Evidence shows it has a balancing effect on our physiological, mental, and emotional states — body, mind, and spirit. It seems to be human nature’s holistic self-medication. And folks who study these things have discovered that, in this case, our kids are the physicians. Children laugh more than 300 times a day compared to paltry 17 times for adults, and the belly-laugh that kids frequently enjoy can do you more good than the chuckle preferred by adults. So, look for the humorous, goof around, be silly. Let your kids remind you how to crack yourself up. Your health and happiness will improve, and I’m not kidding! Here’s what the experts say about why laughter is important in your life.

  • Cardiovascular Health: Laughing reduces blood pressure, strengthens cardiac muscles, and may reduce your chances of heart disease.
  • Immunity: Laughter raises anti-body levels in the blood, thereby strengthening our immune systems.
  • Stress Reduction: Laughter reduces levels of stress neurotransmitters — epinephrine, cortisol, dopamine, and growth hormone.
  • Pain Reduction and Mood: Laughter increases endorphin levels,  the feel-good molecule.  This means less pain and better mood.
  • Muscles and Respiration: Belly-laughing is good exercise the abdomen, heart, face and back. The lungs benefit from air exchange, refreshing the stagnant air that normally resides in our lungs.
  • Enhanced Learning: Laughing stimulates both sides of the brain. This isn’t news to teachers. A friend of mine who teaches high school math starts important lectures with humorous videos to prep students for the new material. (And they just think she’s cool.)
  • Social Bonding: Laughter is thought to be a pre-language form of communication. It can convey connection, trust, community, and conflict resolution. Laughter affects group dynamics, and it is contagious.
  • Balance in the Fire Element: In classical Chinese medicine, all things in nature are a combination of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. In a person, health is achieved when all 5 Elements are in balance, simultaneously generating and controlling each other. Laughter, humor and joy are the province of Fire, the Element that rules communication, our relationships with others, our sense of self, and our ability to live in the moment. What we have learned about laughter through western science reflects perfectly what we have observed through Chinese medicine… joy rises and falls like a flame; it can disperse anger, engender sympathy and counteract grief; and in balance, it benefits that most Fire organ, the Heart.

Interestingly, many of the benefits listed above don’t require that laughter be genuine. A hearty fake laugh can do you a lot of good! So why not just choose to laugh? Chances are you’ll find that the more you laugh, the more you laugh. As for me, I’m thinking of trading story-time for tickle-time a few nights a week, and not just to make bedtime easier.