The Benefits of Laughter

By Donna Wolter, Courier & Press, Oct. 6, 2015 –

Did you know that laughter and stress have the exact opposite effect on the body and mind? Laughter is a natural cure for reducing stress, anxiety and health problems. Laughing at a funny joke, reading the comics or watching a humorous show is a fun way to improve your overall health.

In the book, “A Better Brain at Any Age: The Holistic Way to Improve Your Memory, Reduce Stress and Sharpen Your Wits,” author Sondra Kornblatt writes that a new field called gelotology is exploring the benefits of laughter.

Kornblatt writes that in Norman Cousins’ memoir, “Anatomy of an Illness,” he talks about how watching funny shows helped him feel better and get pain-free sleep. That is because when we laugh, our pituitary gland releases its own pain-suppressing opiates.

Kornblatt also lists the following benefits of laughter:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood
  • Gives a workout to the diaphragm and abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles
  • Reduces certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline
  • Increases the response to infections by producing immunoglobulin in saliva, even reducing the frequency of colds
  • Increases memory and learning

In a study at John Hopkins University Medical School, humor during instruction led to increased test scores, improved alertness, creativity and memory.

Along with this new field of gelotology, we now have over 400 laughter clubs in the U. S. According to Laughter Yoga International, a group led by founder Dr. Madan Kataria, there are about 6,000 laughter clubs worldwide. “Laughter yoga” is based on the simple truth that children instinctively know laughter makes you feel better. Children laugh about 400 times more per day than adults, who average 15 times per day.

Like aerobics, laughter can boost our energy level by providing more oxygen to the body. Laughter yoga involves prolonged voluntary laughter. It is done in groups with eye contact and playfulness between participants. Forced laughter gradually turns into real and contagious laughter.

Dr. Lawrence Shapiro writes in his book, “The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids,” that laughter is a social lubricant, especially for children. One study of children 3-18 asked, “What are three things you like about your friends?” The phrase, “likes to laugh and have fun” appeared in the responses in every age group. This finding adds another layer to the importance of laughter in reducing stress in children. Peer interaction is an important stress reducer, while social isolation is one of the most significant stresses of childhood.

Here are a few activities you might want to try to bring the benefits of laughter into your home.

  • Make fun of a stressful situation. (For example, I know I am really stressed when I can’t find my glasses, and they’re on top of my head.)
  • Have a joke night at your house and have each family member tell a joke.
  • Make a poster of funny photos of your family.
  • Post funny comics on the refrigerator.
  • Have a crazy dress up night.
  • Have a fun game night playing charades, Pictionary, etc.

Trying these simple activities with your family can be fun, and you just might benefit from improved health, decreased pain, reduced stress and improved memory. Form your own laughter club and laugh your way to a better life.