Laughter has serious benefits
Laughter is a free and accessible way to relieve stress and connect with others.
Not only is laughter universal, it is ageless. Picture a baby’s first belly laugh or seeing an older adult’s eyes light up with laughter. No matter what your age, laughter is good medicine and is an exercise everyone can enjoy doing. Laughter therapy has been practiced for centuries to help heal and today laughter is fast becoming the preventative exercise of choice due to its physical, mental, emotional and spiritual powers.
In the book, “Laughter Therapy” by Annette Goodheart, Ph.D.; a whole chapter is dedicated to the physical benefits of laughter. You learn that laughter engages every major system in the body. Have you ever fallen out of your chair laughing or seen kids fall onto the floor and spitting food out of their mouths from laughing? Yes, it is known to cause us to wet our pants occasionally too! When we laugh, we literally lose muscle control.
The diaphragm is a muscle that separates our abdominal cavity from our chest cavity and is the only muscle in our body that is attached to other muscles. When we laugh, our diaphragm convulsively pulls on our side muscles and shakes up our stomach and other vital organs. We get an internal massage, which leaves our organs invigorated, juicy, pumped-up and alert.
Laughter has been clocked exiting our lungs at speeds up to seventy miles per hour. Needless to say, it gives our respiratory system a massive work out. Laughter sessions can provide a cardiovascular, pulmonary workout as well as massage your insides.
No amount of running or other exercise massages our insides and settles or resets our mood the way laughter does. People of all ages can do it together and it’s fun.
Laughing to relieve stress
Negative stress is both mentally and physically draining and can manifest as physical illness if not identified and managed. Laughter can help you manage stress similar to how physical exercise does. Laughter is both a pulmonary and cardiovascular workout in that it makes the heart and lungs work faster, which in turn pumps oxygenized blood to your cells faster, this stimulates your brain to make you more resilient to stressors.
Laughter is free, natural and you can access it easily. In fact, as Goodheart explains you don’t even need to find something funny or be feeling happy to practice laughter and benefit from it.
Don’t let emotional tension build to the point of tears. Set a goal to be aware or mindful of how many times per day you laugh. Think of it as an attitudinal exercise for your mind. Schedule time to practice laughter or join a laughter club.
Laughter education comes in a wide variety of forms and can be called clubs, classes, circles, programs or sessions. The most beneficial of these involve systematic programmable activities, typically provided in a group setting that provides laughter exercise and attitudinal mindfulness to achieve general or targeted goals. Laughter session objectives can include:
- Increase awareness about attitudes and feelings towards laughter.
- Provide opportunities for individuals to laugh.
- Promote laughter in everyday life.
- Provide respite from daily stress and worries.
- Teach how laughter can be an effective mood regulator.
- Encourage healthy choices and laughter, humor and mirth as self-care strategies.
Depending on the setting, individual participation in a therapeutic laughter program can be encouraged as a way to meet individual goals such as socialization, emotional expression, communication, focus, concentration and use of muscles and joints.
Michigan State University Extension provides a mindful laughter session as part of the Stress Less with Mindfulness series. To find a program near you, contact your local MSU Extension county office for more information.