The first person to write about the benefits of laughter was Norman Cousins, who had been diagnosed in 1964 with a degenerative incurable painful illness (ankylosing spondylitis) and given less than a year to live. His book “Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient” was published in 1979. He had been doing research about the power of the mind and decided to try some experiments on himself, with his doctor’s blessing. His friend Allen Funt of “Candid Camera” fame lent him a movie projector and his nurses played funny movies and shows in his hospital room. Eventually he was kicked out for disturbing the other patients and moved into the hotel across the street. He said it was better because he had privacy, and it was much cheaper. As part of his program, he received injections of massive doses of Vitamin C and worked on having a positive mind-set. He lived for another 26 years. Cousins found that 10 minutes of belly laughter was enough to let him sleep pain free for half an hour.
Research shows that laughter can improve the quality of life for patients with chronic illness and has an immediate symptom relieving effect. In 2010, a study found that laughter has the same effects on the body as exercise, such as controlling blood pressure and hormonal changes responsible for appetite.
Short-term benefits of laughter include stimulation of various organs, activation and relief of stress response, and tension release. Long-term effects include a boosted immune system, pain relief, increased personal satisfaction, and mood improvement.
How do you feel when you smile or laugh? When I smile at you, you can’t help smiling back because emotions are contagious. We are now able to look inside our brains and find that laughing releases brain chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins which combine into a brain soup.
Laughter is an emotional medicine because of its ability to reduce stress, anger and loneliness. We are already wired to laugh. How many times does a toddler laugh per day? Take a guess. The number is 400. How many times do we laugh per day, through our belly? Smiling and laughing is the shortest distance between two people. It is a communication tool that we can use to defuse a situation, signal that we are not ferocious, and indicate our friendliness. Do you know that in some countries you can get arrested for smiling at a stranger? Apparently, they think you must be drunk or crazy. Mira Nair’s 1999 documentary “The Laughing Club of India” follows the first laughing club started by medical doctor Dr. Madan Kataria. Members meet once a week and just laugh. They experience less stress, less pain and a better quality of life. Others feel supported in dealing with overwhelming grief and sadness. Some people are cured of diseases like cancer. These laughing clubs are now a worldwide phenomenon. Here are some laughter exercises:
Take an imaginary gigantic piece of floss and floss different parts of your head. Each part triggers a different laughter sound.
Fake sad crying as you lean down. Laugh as you come back up.
Flap your wings like a bird and fly around laghing.
Who was your favorite cartoon character? How did he or she laugh? My favorite was Woody Woodpecker.
Imagine yourself as the bad guy and laugh that evil laughter.
Remember to laugh every day through your belly, and if you don’t have time to exercise, just laugh!
Sooyong Kim, LMT