We are smothered by a world of disharmony, discontent, pain, suffering, despair, depression, cancer, and death. There is only one weapon and one antidote to escape it all – and that is called laughter induced by humor. One of the few free things left in life – something the government cannot tax or take away! You can find it everywhere in almost any situation…you just need to know where to look.
Laughter may spawn while watching a comedy or 30 minutes after a funeral. Funeral laugher may sound morbid and maniacal, but we feel a sense of relief afterward. Why does laughing make people feel better? Laughter precipitates amazing physiological changes within the body to help humankind cope with intolerable stress and the manifestation of physical illnesses, especially during questionably inappropriate circumstances such as a funeral.
One would be naive to think that no physiological changes occur within the body when experiencing a whole-hearted belly laugh. What changes occur within your body when you laugh so hard that tears trickle down your cheeks and your abdominal muscles begin to ache? Worth mentioning, there is a difference between humor and laughter, and the following will give you a better understanding.
Medical scientific director, Ramon Mora-Ripoll, MD, PhD, defines humor and laughter and provides a brief description of the physiological changes.
Humor is defined as one of the stimuli that can help people laugh and feel happy. Sense of humor is a psychological trait that varies considerably and allows people to respond to different types of humorous stimuli. And laughter is defined as a psychophysiological response to either humor or any other stimuli with the following characteristics: (1) powerful contractions of the diaphragm together with repetitive vocal sounds produced by the action of the resonating chambers of the pharynx, mouth, and nasal cavities; (2) typical facial expression (motion of about 50 facial muscles, mainly around the mouth), which may include the release of tears; (3) motion of several groups of muscles of the body (more than 300 may be distinct); and (4) a sequence of associated neurophysiological processes (cardiovascular and respiratory changes, activation of neuroendocrine and immune circuits) (Mora-Ripoll 56-57).
Unfortunately, humor cannot be bottled and sold at the grocery store or prescribed in a non-toxic form by your toxic pill-pushing physician. Having a good sense of humor is as much a commodity as toilet paper is to get through the Loch Ness Monster rollercoaster ride called life. Laughter is an antidote against the harmful physical and mental effects of stress.
It is virtually impossible in today’s society to go even one day without feeling copious amounts of mental stress. Mental stress can have severe health consequences both mentally and physically. Let’s use the heart for example. A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states “heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States for the past 80 years” (Prevalence). Can coping with mental stress using laughter prevent heart disease? According to the University of Maryland Medical Center article authored by Michelle Murray, “We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack” (Murray). Knowing this, why wouldn’t one want to devotedly add laughter into their daily regimen and not take life so seriously?
There are numerous psychological benefits associated with the coping skill of laughter. Mora-Ripoll concludes the following: “Current empirical data for the psychological benefits associated with laughter is stronger than that of its physiological benefits; however, further well-designed research is warranted in all of these areas” (62). Can chronic sufferers of depression, stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, muscle tension, pain, fatigue, and lack of personal connection with others greatly benefit from laughter? The psychological benefits of laughter are summarized in Mora-Ripoll’s research review:
Laughter (1) reduces stress, anxiety, and tension and counteracts symptoms of depression; (2) elevates mood, self-esteem, hope, energy, and vigor; (3) enhances memory, creative thinking, and problem solving; (4) improves interpersonal interaction, relationship, attraction, and closeness; (5) increases friendliness and helpfulness and builds group identity, solidarity, and cohesiveness; (6) promotes psychological well-being; (7) improves quality of life and patient care; and (8) intensifies mirth and is contagious (Mora-Ripoll 56-58).
Awkward outbreaks of laughter occur when you least expect them; most notably when experiencing nervousness, trauma, and elevated levels of emotional distress. Yes, in some cases this may be attributed to a severe psychiatric illness or psychedelic drug-induced state of mind. If those do not apply, rest assured you are just employing the defensive coping mechanism of laughter. Alex Lickerman, M.D. points out: “Being able to laugh at traumatic events in our own lives doesn’t cause us to ignore them, but instead seems to prepare us to endure them” (Lickerman). Laughter at inappropriate times does happen when you least expect it, and some people are more prone to these outbursts than others.
Does upbringing or genetics play a role in the innate ability to “laugh in the face of danger?” Lickerman writes “perhaps many of us simply don’t think to try to laugh, either because we’re too overwhelmed by suffering or because we think laughter in the face of suffering is inappropriate” (Lickerman).
We could all use more laughter in our life to ward off the demons of depression, anxiety, loneliness, despair, heart disease, and so the list goes on. There are no negative side effects and it costs nothing but time. Laughter brings us closer to one another and is contagious. The next time you’re out, wherever, look around, find something to laugh at, and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.
Lickerman, Alex. “Why We Laugh: How Laughter Can Help Build Resilience.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness Find a Therapist. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 23 Jan. 2011. Web. 05 May 2011.
Mora-Ripoll, Ramon. “THE THERAPEUTIC VALUE OF LAUGHTER IN MEDICINE.” Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine 16.6 (2010): 56-64. EBSCO MegaFILE. EBSCO. Web. 5 May 2011.
Murray, Michelle W. “Laughter Is the “Best Medicine” for Your Heart.” University of Maryland Medical Center. University of Maryland Medical Center, 14 July 2009. Web. 05 May 2011.
“Prevalence of Heart Disease — United States, 2005.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services, 14 Feb. 2007. Web. 05 May 2011.