Laughter isn’t just a good feeling; it can also be good medicine. It’s good for our hearts as well as for our souls.
I come from a big, extended family, and laughter and joy and fun were always important parts of the Adler clan. It makes sense — studies show that people tend to laugh thirty times more when they’re in a group. I’m convinced that we can get through anything in life if we can laugh about it, and laugh with one another.
Take Sheila Dolan for example. Her laughter has kept her from death, twice — at least that’s her take on it. “Sheila knows she shouldn’t be here after beating breast cancer and a blood cot on the brain but she’s not about to apologise for her extraordinary good fortune. She doesn’t mope about po-faced and whinge about her ordeal – she cracks jokes, frequently, and with all the pitch-perfect timing of a seasoned stand-up comedian.” (You can read her story in the Worcester News)
In The anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, Norman Cousins shares his story of being hospitalized with a rare, painful and crippling disease back in the early 1970’s. When he was told there was no cure, Norman checked himself out of the hospital, determined to find a cure himself. Knowing that negative emotions can be harmful to the body, Norman reasoned that the opposite must also be true. So he borrowed a movie projector and designed his own treatment, which included Marx Brothers films and old Candid Camera reruns. He soon discovered that ten minutes of laughter provided tow hours of pain-free sleep. Eventually, his debilitating disease was cured, by all intents and purposes, through natural healing methods, and wehn his case was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, Norman received more than three thousand letters from thankful doctors around the world.
Norman’s case triggered a series of studies and ongoing analysis of how laughter makes us healthier. Doctors and scientists already know that laughter reduces levels of certain stress hormones that are responsible for suppressing our immune systems and raising our blood pressure, among other things. They’ve also discovered that laughing one hundred times is equal in benefit to spending ten minutes on the rowing machine or fifteen minutes on an exercise bike. We’re talking a total body workout! Lowered blood pressure, an increase in vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood helps with additional healing. Laughter can also give our diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles a workout. That’s why we often feel so tired after sharing a lot of laughs with friends; we’ve really just been to the gym!
Something else that researchers have pointed out is that positive and negative emotions can’t be experienced simultaneously. We can’t laugh and feel pain at the same times. Have you ever done something silly like bump your head when you stood up or lose you balance and fall for no real reason? At the moment it happened, the humor of the situation hit you quicker than the pain did,m and chances are, while you were laughing, you didn’t feel a thing. It was only after you stopped laughing that you felt the full impact of what just happened and the realization there would be a bruise in the morning.
Lee Berk is the associate director of the Center for Neuroimmunology and an associate research professor of pathology and human anatomy at the School of Medicing at Loma Linda University in California. He and his colleagues have done many studies over the years that show laughter doesn’t just benefit us for health reasons; it’s a great way to help us feel good emotionally, too. “We seek humor and laughter because it feels good,” Berk says. “It feels good because it’s triggering the entire limbi system.”
Humor starts the activity in the brain necessary to help our blood flow increase and release positive hormones and endorphins. We feel more energy, and negative chemicals in our branin, like stress, are suppressed. Bottom line, laughter makes us feel good. Here’s something else that’s interesting, even when we’re not in a funny mood, if we gorce ourselves to laugh, our bodies react the same way they would if we really had something funny to laugh about. So, the next time you’re in a bad mood, make yourself laugh and wait for those endorphins to kick in — you’ll feel a lot better in no time.
(Related Stories from the Good News Network: Study Shows Laughter Reducing Heart Disease Risk)
This is Part 1 in a series called “We Were Created for Laughter” by Debbie Macomber excerpted from her book, Knit Together: Discover God’s Pattern for Your Life. Debbie Macomber is a novelist and author of over 150 novels, with 70 million books in print. Find out more about Debbie and her books at www.debbiemacomber.com. Reprinted with permission from Faith Words books.