The immense joy I experience with my daughter’s laughter is second only to her birth. I smile, giggle, and laugh every time I think about it. There is so much to love about laughter. It provides a universal connection; no matter where we go—down the street or across the globe—we can use laughter to communicate with almost anyone, and maybe even get them to laugh back. In addition to being enjoyable, it is good for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. After all, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy — we’re happy because we laugh.”—William James.
What is laughter? Humans begin laughing at 3.5 to 4 months of age. It is believed that laughter serves as a means to bond with others and strengthen our relationships. At this time, the brain mechanisms behind laughing remain a mystery. But what we do know is that it affects the entire body.
They Say Laughter Is Contagious The saying “Laugh and the whole world laughs with you” is more than just an expression—laughter really is contagious. Laughter triggers an area in our brain that is involved in moving the muscles in our face, almost like a reflex. To that I say laugh away and spread the chuckles.
Laughing the weight off
We burn up to 40 calories from just 15 minutes of laughing, depending on our weight and the intensity of the “hahaha” or “hehe.” Over the course of a year, that can equate to up to 4 pounds. Additionally, when we get in a good belly laugh, we are working those abdominal muscles. The secret to toned abs may be adding fun laughter to those
Try Laughing Away Stress
Psychologically, having a good sense of humor and laughing may permit us to have a better perspective on things by seeing situations in a “more realistic and less threatening light.” Physically, laughter can put a damper on the production of stress hormones — cortisol and epinephrine. And by doing so, it can help us to relax. Additionally, studies have shown that a good LOL or ROFL—texting slang for “laugh out loud” or “rolling on the floor laughing” — can relax our muscles for up to 45 minutes after.
Laughing decreases our blood pressure
Studies have shown that laughing causes blood vessels to initially constrict and then subsequently dilate. The result is a decrease in blood pressure and increased blood flow to our organs. They do say that laughter is the best medicine.
Laughing helps us fight off germs
When we laugh, we increase the production of antibodies (proteins that surveillance for foreign invaders) as well as a number of other immune system cells. In other words, we are strengthening our body’s defense against germs. Additionally, it is a well-known fact that stress weakens our immune system. And because laughing alleviates our body’s stress response, it can help put a stop to its ill effects.
What about laughter and pain relief?
The iconic Charlie Chaplin stated: “Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.” Although Mr. Chaplin probably meant this figuratively, laughter can literally relieve pain by stimulating our
bodies to produce endorphins — natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders. The best part: you do not need a prescription and there are no known side effects.
How Can I Get A Good Laugh?
Life is serious; so let’s look at ways to take laughter seriously.
—Move towards laughter by surrounding ourselves with those who laugh and return the favor by making them laugh.
—Practice laughing by beginning with a smile and then enact a laugh.
Although it may feel contrived at first, with practice, it will likely become spontaneous.
—Surround ourselves with children and pets. On average, children laugh 300 times a day! And we know that laughter is contagious.
—Look for the humor in a bad situation, especially when it is beyond our control.
—Know when not to laugh: at the expense of others or inappropriate or hurtful situations.
Laughter can wipe away stress, decrease our blood pressures, burn calories, alleviate pain, connect us to others, reinvigorate us with hope, and even help fight off germs… the list goes on. And because it is contagious, we are helping others by laughing. There is hardly a good reason not to laugh lots and lots. After all, “Life is better when you’re laughing.”
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Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.