June 18, 2020
Many years ago, a colleague and I got the giggles during a work meeting. While others seriously discussed ideas about an upcoming project, my friend and I shook uncontrollably over the mention of a nonsensical word that struck our funny bones. We didn’t dare look at each other for fear that our stifled laughter would erupt into the room like a broken lawn sprinkler spewing water.
It was wildly inappropriate. It also was wickedly fun and, surprisingly, physically invigorating. I can still remember the reverberation of my snickering in my ribcage and the tension in my core as I tried to keep a lid on it.
There’s a reason why the cliché – “laughter is the best medicine” – is an oft-spoken cliché. While it can feel inappropriate to laugh during difficult times and when you know others are suffering, laughter and other positive emotions help us cope.
The Scientific Benefits of Laughter
Ever since author Norman Cousins made the discovery in the 1960s that 10 minutes of belly laughter gave him pain relief from a debilitating illness, laughter has been viewed as a form of physical, mental, and emotional therapy.
Cousins likened laughter to a kind of internal jogging that enhances respiration and taps into positive emotions. Since then, researchers have claimed that laughing reduces stress, lowers blood sugar, improves immune system function, reduces pain, and even burns calories. The actual science behind the physiological benefits of laughter appears scant.
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Laughing nonetheless is one of the more pleasurable things we do. It’s also a uniquely human trait that’s worth celebrating. After all, have you ever seen a cat laugh? Maybe a hyena, but generally laughter is distinctly human.
Laughing is a primal way that we bond and convey not only congeniality but also safety and security. When we laugh, suddenly everything is right in the world – at least for a few moments. And few of us need science to prove its merits. It simply feels good to laugh and the more often we do it the better we feel.
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Comedian Groucho Marx once quipped that “a clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast.” Many have taken Marx’s comment to heart. Studies show, for example, that half of cancer patients have used humor as part of their alternative healing therapy and 21% of breast cancer patients have used laughter therapy.
So, how can you invite more laughter into your life?
3 Ways to Laugh More
Bringing a bit of mindfulness into the picture can help. When we pay closer attention to the moments of levity that naturally arise during our day, the more we can greet them with laughter. We also can become more intentional about our desire to laugh more often.
Holding an intention is a bit like holding a compass in our hands. It points us in the direction we want to go. That along with taking a few practical steps can help you guffaw more often. Here are suggestions to keep you amused:
- Start with a Smile: Smiling is a gateway to laughter. Granted, turning your lips upward won’t automatically give you the giggles. But it will lighten your mood and help you more fully embrace humorous moments when they arise in your day. All of which can pave the way to more laughter.
- Focus on the Funny: When I think about what I habitually listen to, read or watch I’m amazed at how unfunny most of it is. There’s not much hilarity in reading the daily news or binge-watching “Breaking Bad.” And, yet, there are plenty of amusing things to listen to, read or watch. When was the last time you listened to a comedic podcast, cracked open a book of knock-knock jokes, or went to a comedy club? If you make humor a priority, the laughs will often find you.
- Laugh with Others: Can you even remember the last time you had belly laughed by yourself? Laughter is contagious. And if you can’t find a friend to share a joke with, there are groups and practices devoted to encouraging laughter. Laughter Yoga classes, for example, have sprouted up in countless cities. There are Meet Up groups devoted to laughing as well. Both of which will give you plenty of opportunities to put the old adage that laughter is the best medicine to the test.
Written by Kelly Barron, eM Life Teacher