The Science of Laughter


The title I chose for this article makes me smile. The science of laughter? Laughter, one of the things we used to take for granted, is now the subject of scientific study. In some ways it's quite surprising what has been discovered, but in other ways, it's probably not surprising at all. After all, we know intuitively that it is good for us.

While studying the effects of laughter, Dr. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University in California proved that laughter boosts the immune system. Dr. Robert Provine's book, Laughter - a Scientific Investigation, documents that even Chimps laugh, although with different stimuli. In his book, Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins, a respected journalist, wrote about how he dealt with the diagnosis of ankolysing spondilitis, an arthritic condition that left him bedridden and in horrible pain. With his Physicians permission, Norman moved out of the hospital and into a motel. His idea was to remove himself from the pain and suffering of others and create a pleasant environment, where he watched funny movies sent to him by his friends in Hollywood. He made the happy discovery that ten minutes of belly laughter gave him 2 hours of pain free sleep. He recuperated and went on to live many more productive years.

We know that laughter is one of the best ways to relieve stress, but it has many other benefits as well. It is, as Norman Cousins once said, likened to internal jogging for the inner organs. As an aerobic exercise it is very good for the heart and lungs. The word aerobic means "with oxygen", so laughing increases the amount of oxygen in the body and this in turn, is very good for the respiratory system. It can help to lower blood pressure; it increases endorphins (the body's natural morphine), serotonin levels increase and other important stress fighting chemicals are released as well. In fact, one study showed that serotonin, when put into a test tube with cancer cells, killed the cancer cells. It seems that laughter can help to heal our bodies.

When I explain that, as a laughter therapist, I teach people how to laugh, I get many interesting responses. Since the body cannot differentiate between simulated and stimulated laughing, it may feel awkward at first to pretend to laugh. But with a willingness to step out of one's comfort zone, simulated laughter soon turns into genuine guffaaaaaws. People who are struggling with unresolved life issues may have a difficult time with this concept, but for those who can participate, it's truly a delightfully upbeat way to combat stress. I am fond of saying that "laughter begets laughter", and once you get used to that idea, you might be surprised at how much you can achieve by smiling and laughing your way through each day.

It's a sad fact that, as children, we likely laughed 300 - 400 times a day, but now, as adults, we are lucky if we laugh 12 times a day. While in the 1930's it was estimated that people laughed approximately 16 - 18 minutes daily, it is estimated that now we are doing well if we manage to laugh for 6 minutes every day.

Laughter is very good for us, feels good and is enjoyable as well. We don't need to go through each day with "terminal seriousness". Even for those of us who work in difficult environments, maintaining our sense of humour and being able to laugh at the challenges that face us daily, will help us to be happier people at the end of each day. A positive attitude will not only help us to feel better, plus have a beneficial effect on our general health, but it will have a wonderful spin-off effect on the people around us. Remember, "if you're happy, tell your face".

Carole Fawcett is a Stress Management Consultant and Laughter Therapist as well as a freelance writer. She is passionate about her work and delights in sharing her knowledge in a deliciously fun and upbeat manner with any audience. To learn more about Carole, www.afunnybusiness.ca">http://www.afunnybusiness.ca


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