Do you remember that last time you had a good, hearty, deep from your very soul laugh? For my family, it was last night while we enjoyed fireworks with friends over the lake in anticipation of the 4th of July celebration. Josh Billings said, “Laughter is the fireworks of the soul”; and great wisdom can be found in Proverb (17:22): “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.”
There are tremendous health benefits found in laughing – it strengthens your immune system, triggers the release of endorphins that lift your mood, helps protect your heart, diminishes pain and protects you by reducing effects of stress.
One of the best feelings in the world is that deep belly laugh – to have one and even to hear it in others. While the ability to laugh is a powerful health resource, mentally, emotionally and physically. it can also bring people together and establish amazing connections. Everything from a slight giggle to a side-splitting guffaw can change the atmosphere of a room from chilly unfamiliarity to warm and family-like. Studies have shown a strong, positive bond is created when we laugh with one another.
So, when was the last time you found yourself laughing out loud? Hopefully, you are one of the fortunate ones that has enjoyed the delights of laughing recently – and the powerful preventive benefits its joy offers. There is so much to love about laughter and many ways it promotes wellness and wellbeing in everyday life, at home, work and at play.
What is laughter?
While the brain mechanisms behind laughing (and smiling) remain a mystery, it is often a spontaneous response to humor or other visual, auditory, or emotional stimuli. And, too, it can occur on command—as either voluntary or contrived.
When we laugh, air is forced through the vocal cords as a result of chest wall contractions, in particular from the diaphragm. It is often followed by a deep inspiration of air. Thus, laughter recruits a number of muscles—respiratory, laryngeal, and facial. And when “exuberant,” it can also involve the arms and legs.
When do humans begin laughing?
Our first laugh typically occurs between 3 to 4 months of age—even before we learn to speak! It is believed that a baby’s laugh serves as a way to communicate, bond, and, too, explore sound and vocalization.
There is already so much to love for laughter that it seems greedy to look for more, but that’s exactly what researchers Dr. Lee Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan at the Loma Linda University in California have done. These two doctors have researched the benefits of laughter and found amazing results.
1. Lowers blood pressure
People who lower their blood pressure, even those who start at normal levels, will reduce their risk of stroke and heart attack. So, grab the Sunday paper, flip to the funny pages, and enjoy your laughter medicine, or pull up the latest memes in social media. Of even better, watch your favorite funny movie, or check out these YouTube posts from LucidChart.
2. Reduces stress hormone levels
By reducing the level of stress hormones, you’re simultaneously cutting the anxiety and stress that impacts your body. Additionally, the reduction of stress hormones may result in higher immune system performance. Just think: Laughing along as a co-worker tells a funny joke can relieve some of the day’s stress and help you reap the health benefits of laughter.
Psychologically, having a good sense of humor—and applying it by laughing—may permit us to have a better perspective on things by seeing situations in a “more realistic and less threatening light.” Physically, laughter can put a damper on the production of stress hormones—cortisol and epinephrine—as well as trigger the release of endorphins. Endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers and can boost our mood. And, too, it has been shown that a good LOL or ROTFL — texting slang for “laugh out loud” or “rolling on the floor laughing” — can relax our muscles for up to 45 minutes after.
3. Works your abs
One of the benefits of laughter is that it can help you tone your abs. When you are laughing, the muscles in your stomach expand and contract, similar to when you intentionally exercise your abs. Meanwhile, the muscles you are not using to laugh are getting an opportunity to relax. Add laughter to your ab routine and make getting a toned tummy more enjoyable.
4. Improves cardiac health
Laughter is a great cardio workout, especially for those who are incapable of doing other physical activity due to injury or illness. It gets your heart pumping and burns a similar number of calories per hour as walking at a slow to moderate pace. So, laugh your heart into health.
The American Heart Association states that laughter can help our hearts. Research shows that by decreasing stress hormones, we can see a decrease in blood pressure as well as artery inflammation and bad cholesterol levels. Elevated blood pressure forces our heart to work harder in order to generate the force needed to pump against the increased resistance. And inflammation and high cholesterol contribute to the development of fatty plaques that decrease blood flow to the heart, or, even, complete blockage that can cause a heart attack.
5. Boosts T-cells
T-cells are specialized immune system cells just waiting in your body for activation. When you laugh, you activate T-cells that immediately begin to help you fight off sickness. Next time you feel a cold coming on, add chuckling to your illness prevention plan.
6. Triggers the release of endorphins
Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. By laughing, you can release endorphins, which can help ease chronic pain and make you feel good all over.
7. Produces a general sense of well-being
Laughter can increase your overall sense of well-being. Doctors have found that people who have a positive outlook on life tend to fight diseases better than people who tend to be more negative. Smile, laugh, and live longer!
8. Improves bonding
There has been much written that laughter is not primarily about humor, but, instead, social relationships. When we laugh, we create a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people. In fact, with romantic partners, shared laughter—when you laugh together—is an indicator of relationship well-being, in that it enhances closeness and perceptions of partner supportiveness.
9. Can shed pounds
In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers found that 15 minutes of genuine laughter burns up to 40 calories, depending on the individual’s body weight and laughter intensity. While this cannot replace aerobic physical activity, 15 minutes of daily LOL, over the course of a year, could result in up to 4 fewer pounds.
10. Enhances our ability to fight off germs
Laughter increases the production of antibodies—proteins that surveillance for foreign invaders—as well as a number of other immune system cells. And, in doing so, we are strengthening our body’s defenses against germs. Additionally, it is a well-known fact that stress weakens our immune system. And because laughing alleviates our body’s stress response, it can help dampen its ill-effects.
11. A natural pain-killer
The iconic Charlie Chaplin stated: “Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.” Although Mr. Chaplin probably meant this figuratively, laughter can literally relieve pain by stimulating our bodies to produce endorphins — natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders. The best part: You do not need a prescription and there are no known side-effects.
Is it contagious?
Yes. The saying “laugh and the whole world laughs with you” is not just figurative, it is literal. When we hear laughter, it triggers an area in our brain that is involved in moving the muscles in our face, almost like a reflex. This is one of the reasons television sitcoms have laugh tracks—a separate soundtrack that contains the sound of audience laughter. We are more likely to find the joke or situation funny and chuckle, giggle, or guffaw.
How to use laughter to heal and uplift.
Laughter is a physical expression of pleasant emotions among human beings. It is preceded by what one sees, hears or feels. When shared, it serves to connect people and increases intimacy and is a good anti-stress medicine.
LOL or lol, has become a very popular element of internet communications and texting in expressing great amusement in a chat. As well, according to research, the smiling and “tears of joy” laughing emoji faces are tops in digital communications. Their usage is so widespread and so common, that we now actually have data that demonstrates that the use and placement of emojis carries an emotional weight which impacts our perception of the messages that frame these icons (understanding the mental states of others is crucial to communication). And yes, in today’s busy world we may be utilizing =D and LOL’s at every turn, but let’s lean in to the hilarious and enjoy the good, hearty health benefits of laughter.
And remember, know when not to laugh. Laughter at the expense of others or in hurtful situations is inappropriate.
Now, make a commitment to laugh more.
In his book, The Travelers Gift, Andy Andrews challenges the traveler to start each day with laughter within moments of waking. It changes your whole being, even if you only laugh for seven seconds. I have tried it. I have faked it, and even as I start with the fake laugh, I can’t stop after seven seconds.
Practice laughing by beginning with a smile and then enact a laugh. Although it may feel contrived at first, with practice, it will likely become spontaneous. At Laughter University (yes, there is one) they encourage at least 30 seconds. There is so much going on around us that is laughable!
We can also move towards laughter by being with those who laugh and return the favor by making them laugh. And, too, surround ourselves with children and pets. On average, children laugh 300 times a day! And we know that laughter is contagious. Studies have shown people are immensely happier just seeing a picture of a dog!
Even make an effort to find the humor in an unpleasant situation, especially with situations that are beyond our control.
For all this, you will be made glad. Laughter wipes away stress, decreases blood pressure, burns calories, alleviates pain, connects us to others, reinvigorates us with hope, helps ward off germs … (the list goes on) – and feels soooo good. LOL for better health, connection and joy!
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Dr. Nina Radcliff, Laugh, giggle, be joyful — for lol; ‘The fireworks of the soul’. Washington Post