When was the last time you had a good laugh? I don’t mean a little chuckle, I mean a really good belly laugh, tears streaming, jaw aching, uncontrollable laugh. Whenever it was I bet it felt good and that the feeling stayed with you long after the laughter had gone. Laughter, in fact, is so good for you that a whole day has been dedicated to it. World Laughter Day was started by Dr Madan Kataria in India on May 10th 1998 and is now celebrated in more than 70 countries around the world on the 1st Sunday in every May.
Psychologists have looked at the science behind laughter and come up with the a list of reasons we should set time aside every day to have a laugh:
- Laughter reduces immunosuppressant hormones such as cortisol-these are the hormones that make us feel stressed, so the more we laugh, the less stressed we feel.
- It produces endorphins-these are the hormones that enhance our mood so not only does laughter make us happy in the moment, once released these hormones can have a more lasting effect on how happy we feel.
- It burns calories-need I say more!
- It improves memory power-this is especially important as we age and our memory can start to decline.
- It gives us an overall sense of wellbeing and a positive outlook on life is known to help us fight disease and live longer.
So, how can we bring more laughter into our lives? Robert Provine, who has studied the benefits of laughter, says that laughter is not all about jokes, if you pay attention to every day life you will find things to laugh about. To back this up a study by Margaret Stuber has shown that people who are able to laugh in certain situations when they could have become angry or embarrassed have fewer heart attacks and lower blood pressure. Think about a time when a waiter has spilled some wine on your sleeve, you could choose to get angry or you could engage in a conversation with that waiter and relate a funny story about a time that you have made a mistake at work, lets face it we have all been there! Now that you have released some feel good endorphins you can go on and enjoy the rest of your evening.
You don’t even need to worry if you can find nothing to laugh about; even a fake smile can have a positive effect through the feedback loop to your brain. Strack et al devised the ‘pen in mouth ‘experiment published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1988. Participants were told to either clench a pen with their teeth, which activates muscles that are used for smiling, or hold it tightly with their lips, which rendered these muscles inactive. Then they asked participants to rate funny cartoons. Those participants who had their smiling muscles activated found the cartoons funnier than those who didn’t. Why don’t you try it-take a look at this picture when you are down in the mouth and then try it again smiling-what are the results?
At Select Psychology we even believe that laughter can be used as a therapeutic tool for working with clients with anxiety and depression. Reynes & Allen, 1987, Goldin & Bordan, 1999, 2006 identified the benefits of enabling the client to change their perspective by seeing the worlds absurdities, for example, by giving the client a cartoon that touches on the problem in a more playful way. It can strengthen the rapport between client and clinician by breaking down barriers and having a moment of shared emotion. It can also provide a temporary break from difficult emotions.
Laughter is free and you can do it whenever and wherever you want and as often as you like, and that can’t be said for many things in this world. It crosses cultural, age, race and gender boundaries and can be shared by all so there are no excuses to get out there and get laughing today.
Goldin, E. & Bordan, B. (1999). The use of humor in counseling: The laughing cure. Journal of Counseling & Development, 77, 405-410.
Provine, Robert R. Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. New York: Viking, 2000
Reynes, R.L. & Allen, A. (1987). Humor in psychotherapy: A view. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 61, 260-270.
Stuber, Margaret L and Wedding, Danny. Behaviour and Medicine. Toronto: Horrefe Publishing, 2010
Strack E, Martin, L. L. & Strepper, S. (1988) Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: a non-obtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 768-777.