We have all heard the line: “Laughter is the best medicine”, but for most people this means no more than a blissful saying. Humor is a strong communication tool that allows people to express themselves, relieve tension, and facilitate relationship-building. Laughter provides a sense of comfort; learning to laugh during dark times helps us gain perspective and realize that things may not be as bad as they seem. Laughter grants people permission to relax and smile during tough times, such as after a loss of a loved one or during times of sickness. Laughter can also be used as a coping mechanism, letting people diffuse heavy emotions such as anger and sadness. While laughter puts us in good spirits and lightens the mood, more research must be done on laughter’s biological impact on health.
Laughter as a healing mechanism has only recently come into examination, and already the research has been astonishing. Laughter decreases anxiety, restrains aggression, and lightens depression. Similar to exercise, laughter increases the body’s heart and respiratory rates, increasing oxygen consumption and decreasing blood pressure. Research has also found that laughter increases the immune system’s ability to defend itself against viruses and foreign agents. Laughter alleviates stress, decreasing the risk of stress-related illnesses and preventing overactivation of fight or flight hormones. Overactivation of fight or flight hormones contributes to numerous health complications, most significantly hypertension and certain nervous system disorders. In addition to relieving emotional stress, laughter helps break up tension within the body as a result of past sympathetic nervous system overactivity. According to Alexander Lowen, the founder of bioenergetic psychotherapy, laughter produces convulsive reactions that mitigate muscular tension within the body. In practice, bioenergetic therapists try to stimulate anger, laughter, or tears to heal the body by releasing energy and endorphins. The more vigorous the laugh, the more tension released and endorphins pumped throughout the body.
Simply deciding to laugh more may be the decision that changes your mindset and health. The more we laugh, the freer and lighter we become. Laugh at the little things, share in others’ laughter, laugh at yourself, and your let laughter be contagious. When we learn to laugh and take life less seriously, humor can be a powerful healer of the mind and body. With laughter, you may find yourself healing others while healing yourself.