by Dr. Shanthi Thomas
In the famous book ‘Anatomy of an illness’, Norman Cousins writes in detail how he defeated a severe, life threatening disease with mega doses of vitamin C and just laughter! Even though rigorous scientific studies on the efficacy of laughter as a healing mechanism is yet to be undertaken, there is consensus in the medical community that laughter indeed augments one’s natural healing powers. It may not be long before doctors prescribe 10 minutes of belly laughter along with 30 minutes of exercise!
Laughing as Exercise
Towards the end of the 20th century, laughter clubs gained in popularity. In these clubs, people get together and engage in laughter on purpose. In fact, deep belly laughter acts as a light workout for your body. When you laugh deeply, your facial muscles stretch, your whole body convulses, your pulse increases like crazy and more oxygen is pumped to your tissues, as you breathing gets faster. It is for this reason that laughter has been called ‘internal jogging’.
Natural Immune Booster
Tickling your funny bones is good for your immune system too. If grief and anger suppresses your immune system, positive emotional expressions such as laughter does just the opposite. It reduces cortisol levels and increases the antibodies that fight against infection, cytokines that regulate immune functions, and natural killer cells that destroy tumor and viral cells. Studies have shown that infection-fighting antibodies flood your system when you enter into bouts of deep laughter.
Good for Your Heart
A study by the researchers at the Loma Linda University of California found that just one year of watching hilarious TV shows had the effect of increasing good cholesterol in patients by about 26%. The link is very clear. When you laugh genuinely, your stress levels are very low, and people with lower stress have of course fewer chances of getting heart problems.
Mental Health Benefits
There are well-recorded benefits of laughter for mental health. Laughter releases endorphins, which are natural chemicals in the body that promote a sense of well-being and relief from stress. In situations where there are conflicting opinions, seeing the humor in the argument and starting to laugh can defuse the tension. Laughter reduces stress by reducing cortisol levels. It also counteracts feelings of anxiety and sadness. Thus, a dose of laughter can significantly reduce the generalized anxiety in a family or any other social group. Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are two mental illnesses that can be positively affected by laughter.
Laughter as Pain Reliever
Laughter has been found to be a non-pharmacological method of reducing pain in a major study involving senior citizens. Scientists believe that the long series of exhalations that characterize true laughter lead to physical exhaustion of the abdominal muscles, which in turn releases endorphins. This is the rationale behind the laughter therapy or humor therapy that has gained traction with many people in modern society. In a laughter therapy session, laughter is forced at first, but later on is genuinely produced by the members. It helps people to cope with the pain associated with serious diseases such as cancer. Such therapy sessions make use of comedy movies, clowns, games or impromptu laughter exercises.
So what can I do to laugh?
Best laughter is spontaneously produced, in the company of friends and family. However, if you are in need of some laughter inducers, there are time-tested comedies that can guarantee results. Examples are White Chicks (2004), Step Brothers (2008), and Girls Trip (2017), to name a few. If you are into comedy shows there are many laughter-inducing ones such as Friends (1994–2004), The Big Bang Theory (2007–2019), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005–), Arrested Development (2003–),Modern Family (2009–2020), and Parks and Recreation (2009–2020). Standup comedians such as Ricky Gervais. Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, Jim Jefferies, Zach Galifianakis and Aziz Ansari will also tickle your funny bones without fail. If you are looking for funny comics and graphic novels, there are plenty in that section too: I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young and Jean- Francois Beaulieu, Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, and Sarah’s Scribbles By Sarah C. Andersen are a few that are guaranteed laughter inducers. Even good old The Adventures of Tintin by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, (Hergé) has hilarious moments interspersed throughout. Finally, there are websites with jokes pages freely available.