The benefits of laughter? It’s no joke
Do you remember the sheer joy when you were a child, of laughing so much your belly ached? Most children laugh hundreds of times a day and benefit greatly from this activity, but by the time we reach adulthood the laughter becomes less a part of our daily lives. Instead we equate adulthood with being serious.
Some of us didn’t grown up in a household of laughter, but as an innate human quality, it is still something we often crave.
Ironically, adults often talk-the-talk when it comes to laughter – you only have to look in a gift shop to see the ‘live, laugh, love’ signs adorning every wall or watch the pre-COVID packed audiences at the live comedy at the Apollo on TV. We know on one level how important laughter is, yet somehow the actual practice of laughing on a daily basis can sometimes get lost or feels indulgent or silly.
So let’s get serious about laughter and see what the science has to say about it.
There is no doubt that laughter is good for our health. Studies have shown how it relaxes the muscles; decreases stress hormones whilst increasing our ‘feel good’ chemicals (endorphins); can help us burn calories; improve our heart function and can even help us live longer!
There are also a really important psychological and social functions of laughter – to decrease conflict or arguments and to help us let go of bitterness or resentment. Not only does laughter often improve our mood - making us nicer to be around, but it is well known that a GSOH (good sense of humour) is often something others are drawn to when seeking bonds for friendships, with colleagues and with partners.
I’m sure we can all think of a time when something hasn’t gone the way we’ve planned it, perhaps a meal didn’t work out how it was supposed to on the recipe, or we got lost on a walk in the countryside. If taken seriously these things can feel heavy and even like we have failed, but most of us can think of someone has helped us laugh about these occasions in the right way, and the end result might even be a good memory.
Especially after the year we have just had, laughter is more important than ever. So here are some tips to increase those belly laughs.
Start with smiling. When we smile we are open our mind and body up to the positive, and welcoming it in others
Seek out laughter. Watch something on TV that makes you laugh, or contact a friend who you know you have a laugh with. If something tickles you out in public, see if you can catch someone else eye that might have experienced it, and a have a light laugh with a stranger.
Bring humour into your everyday interactions. Try using humour more with colleagues, family members or friends. Perhaps put up a calendar of funny things or look online and some jokes websites, then try a few of the jokes out with people you know. If you aim for humour that doesn’t put other people down or stereotype people, then more people will feel included and can share in the fun.
Know when it is okay to laugh at yourself. We don’t want people to laugh at us, we want them to laugh with us, so laughing at yourself doesn’t mean being critical of yourself, or putting yourself down. It does mean noticing when we might have done something daft and sharing that with someone else.
Fake it ‘til you make it! This might sound a bit silly for some people, but if you laugh out loud even when you don’t feel like laughing, it can encourage your body to have the same positive results. It can also be infectious and spur others around you to start laughing for no reason, until you are all happily in fits of giggles.
So let’s try it now. Think of something funny you have heard or seen … start with a little smile and then let yourself have a chuckle out loud. Then see how that feels in your body. Hopefully you will feel a little lighter a more relaxed. It really is the best medicine!