There’s a well known story about journalist and author Norman Cousins. Told he had little chance of surviving his disease, he developed his own healing regimen that included regularly watching Marx Brothers films. He went on to make a full recovery, crediting laughter as a significant factor in his healing.
“Laughter actually has a number of physical benefits,” comments UW Health psychologist Shilagh Mirgain, PhD. “It triggers physical changes in the body, relaxes muscles, improves cardiovascular health, increases the production of pain-killing endorphins, reduces cortisol and enhances the immune system.”
And, laughter naturally brings about emotional benefits as well. While a good belly laugh can help us feel more relaxed, positive and joyful, research has shown that it can actually alter our perceptions as well. Laughing in the face of danger, as it were, may actually help us feel calm and achieve a better mindset to face challenges, and even overcome situations that may have previously felt insurmountable.
The Shortest Distance Between Two People is Laughter
Laughing with others can also increase the physical and emotional benefits, and strengthen relationships. Researchers from the University of Washington explored the factors that contribute to healthy marriages. While it’s normal for couples to argue, time and again the arguments are over the same topics. During their studies, they watched couples argue and found that couples who had the ability to diffuse the argument, such as with laughter, had more successful relationships.
Even beyond intimate relationships, any time we’re interacting with others the ability to laugh can help us establish closer bonds. In a group setting, such as at work, laughing together can help individuals overcome negative emotions or roadblocks that affect their ability to interact well together. It can even help break through gridlock and lead to greater cooperation.
Get in Touch with Your Inner Child
Spend time with young children, and you know they can break out in giggles over the simplest of things. On average, they are laughing between 400 to 500 times a day. Adults, on the other hand, can go days without laughing at all.
“We really need to learn to laugh at ourselves from time to time,” comments Mirgain. “We need to re-discover the children we once were and find humor in the absurdities of everyday life and create opportunities for laughter in our day.”
Fake It Till You Make It
Mirgain suggests trying to keep a smile on your face throughout the day, even if you don’t feel like it. Then take stock of how you’re feeling. You may notice that your muscles are a little less tense, and you feel more relaxed, buoyant or recharged. And research actually backs that up. Keeping a smile on your face, even when you least feel like it, can actually change your mood.
If you’re feeling down, watch a funny movie or read a humorous book. And, bring laughter to those who need it. If a friend is undergoing treatment or recovering from surgery, consider finding funny movies to watch together.
“Look for the opportunity in your day to laugh as often as possible,” recommends Mirgain. “Try not to take yourself so seriously. We are all just doing the best we can.”