Over the past week my house has been filled with close relatives visiting from Australia. Along with all the usual things that go with having guests there can be no denying that the laughter quota in my home has risen during this time. Going to bed one evening enjoying the effects of a night spent laughing and story-telling, I was reminded of something my mother used to say when I was a child. “You need at least one good cry and one good laugh per month”. This often came after an episode of “heartfelt sobbing” or “laughing until my sides hurts”. It turns out that Mum was right, research has shown that emotional crying excretes stress hormones and other toxins generally resulting in feelings of relief and improved mood. Research has also demonstrated many physical, emotional and social benefits of laughter which provide a great incentive to boost your laughter output.
The simple act of smiling causes the brain to produce dopamine which is associated with the production of endorphins, our feel good neurotransmitters. From the humble beginnings of a smile to full blown laughter the benefits of laughter are far reaching. One of the reasons that laughter is so good for us is that it stimulates both sides of the brain simultaneously, something that is not readily achieved in many other activities. This dual stimulation activates our centres for creativity, clarity, humour, problem solving and focus. Thus creating great preparation for a large variety of activities.
Laughter can also result in reduced muscle tension and increased energy a natural form of stress release and a good substitute, if you can’t get to your yoga class. In fact there is growing body of literature on laughter yoga and support for it as a legitimate form of exercise.
During laughter the brain releases nitric oxide which triggers an anti-inflammatory effect that boosts immunity. This health benefit of laughter is just one of many. The Cancer Treatment Centres of America report that laughter can boost the circulatory system, stimulate heart and lungs, balance blood pressure, ease digestion, improve memory and alertness, improve sleep, reduce anxiety and strengthen social bonds. Wow, the benefits are huge. Research has also shown that laughter can contribute to stronger therapeutic bonds between client and therapist and that laughter during therapy can be a means of clients communicating high level emotions. All of this suggests that we should seek opportunities for laughter often.
However, if laughter is not something that comes to you easily, never fear as you can always join a Laughter Therapy Group. Such groups involve participants laughing together and trying out different laughs. For example, the 1cm laugh a simple repeated “Ha”, the “Boo-Hoo” laugh (fake crying) and the donkey laugh “ee-haw, ee-haw”. The group silliness generally results in spontaneous laughter creating a positive emotional release, facilitating group bonding.
Whether you get your laughs from TV, movies, books, spending time with friends, your kids or YouTube, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to look for opportunities for laughter in your daily life and create a little for those around you, laughter is after all contagious. It has been found that people who are the most resilient are those who are able to laugh at themselves and see the funny side of life. For your own physical and mental well-being be sure to “Get Your Laugh On!”
Dr Rachel Upperton
B. Psych (Hons) PhD.
Registered Psychologist, MAPS