To Do: Laugh

We all know laughter is the best medicine, but for what? As it turns out, humor can positively impact pretty much everything.

Health

“He who laughs, lasts.” – Mary Pettibone Poole

Aside from the abdominal workout, what can a comical outlook on life do for your physical health? Our immune system protects us from a constant barrage of germs, bacteria, and viruses, so perhaps the most important benefit of laughter is an improved immune response.

Our saliva contains secretory immunoglobulin A (s-IgA) and its presence is a sign that our immune system is functioning as it should. Under stressful conditions, levels of s-IgA drop. Researchers gathered up a some volunteers, rated the strength of their sense of humor, and then went about hassling them. Those without a sense of comedy faired poorly: their s-IgA levels dropped sharply. Those who saw a lighter side to their struggles had very little change, helping them maintain a barrier against illness and fight off infection. (Reference: Karren, Hafen, Smith & Frandsen, Mind/Body Health, 2002)

Just a few other health benefits that might make you giggle:

  • Simply the expectation of laughter boosts beta-endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller, by 27%
  • Laughter decreases cortisol and other stress hormones
  • A good chortle increases your heart rate equivalent to 10 minutes on a rowing machine
  • Laughter causes the inner lining of blood vessels – the endothelium – to expand, increasing blood flow
  • The physical effects of laughter last up to 2 hours after you stop

Relationships

Our support team is one of the most important cornerstones to extraordinary living. Bolstering our relationships with a good dose of humor makes sense. Laughter is “a message we send to other people – it practically disappears when we’re by ourselves. Ask someone to laugh and they’ll either try to fake a laugh or say they can’t laugh on command,” notes author Robert Provine, neuroscientist and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.

Laughter can establish a positive emotional environment, spurring introductions on to deeper content and restoring pleasure within long-term relationships. In fact, Provine sees laughter as a critical index of a healthy relationship. Unfortunately, giggles decrease dramatically with age. Adults laugh a mere 17 times per day on average. Compare that to pre-schoolers who can produce 400 giggles on a dreary Monday. Find opportunities to laugh: at yourself, with your friends, at work, and at home.

Perspective

A person without a sense of humor “is like a wagon without springs, jolted by every pebble in the road.” – Henry Ward Beecher

Harvey Mindess, a notable humor expert and professor at Antioch University explains, “Humor at its best encourages a broad perspective on life. It provides a view of the ironies that abound. Recognizing life’s zaniness encourages flexibility and adaptability.” A humorous outlook can promote creativity, improve negotiating and decision-making skills, and maintain a sense of balance.

Humor is likely the easiest method to completely shift your perspective, open your mind, and allow you to move forward. Alberta Flanders said it well, “Sometimes only a change of viewpoint is needed to convert a tiresome duty into an interesting opportunity.”

In order to make a measurable impact on your life, you need to get in the habit of using comedy and laughter to dig out of frustrating or disappointing situations. Next time you’re down:

  • At home: Turn on a favorite comedy. Most television comedies only take 20 minutes to watch online with the advent of limited or eliminated commercials.
  • At work: Recruit a friendly colleague for a quick coffee break and share some laughs. Even better, walk to a nearby coffee shop to boost stress relief.
  • In the car: Force yourself to recall a hilarious incident. We all have them and remembering them frequently can develop an arsenal of funny memories.

Performance

Even the corporate world has recognized laughter as an inexpensive method for improving performance and profitability. A Forbes article highlights the workplace benefits:

Dopamine…turns on all the learning centers in the brain and heightens creativity, productivity and engagement. In a meta-analysis of 225 academic studies, happy employees were found to have 31% higher productivity and 37% higher sales. Doctors who were primed to be positive came to the correct diagnosis 19% faster and more accurately, while business teams solved problems more quickly, were deemed better by bosses and got higher customer satisfaction ratings.”

“Are Funny People More Successful in Business?” Forbes, 2012

Safeway Stores even reported a dramatic decrease in debilitating accidents after the stores began holding humor clinics for employees. It’s a no-brainer: humor helps us deal with stress in a productive way, which allows us to work better and more innovatively.

The recipe for better relationships, improved health, decreased stress, balance, and a performance boost? Take laughter seriously. Book time with the funniest people in your life. Practice making jokes and finding the lighter side of life’s little dilemmas. Read the comics instead of the front page on Sunday. Opt for comedy instead of drama.

Help us all out. Share your favorite joke in the comments.

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