This week, in addition to moving into July – don’t even get me started on where the year has gone – the world will celebrate International Joke Day. No one really knows where this holiday came from, but what we do know is that someone, somewhere, at some point, wanted to spread laughter, happiness and cheer through the art of joke telling.
A joke is a written or spoken narrative that is meant to entertain, amuse or generate laughter among its recipients. For as long as I can recall, I’ve always heard that ‘laughter is the best medicine’. I know it is in my family…we laugh and joke all the time. But is laughter really the best medicine? Today we explore this phrase to see if it really holds true.
Sharing a Laugh
In my family, we tend to joke in times of high stress. I’ll give you a little example. Recently my sister took me to urgent care after T, my adorable 20-month-old, accidentally head butted me right in the eye, leaving me in extreme pain, thinking he absolutely broke my face. Immediately following the incident my husband gave me a jumbo pack of frozen corn to put on my eye/face.
As I sat in urgent care with the frozen corn on my face, waiting for the doctor, a group text went around the family in order to keep everyone in the loop. The main conversation happening? Not how my eye was…rather we were discussing whether or not my husband was going to be ok because we used a jumbo bag of corn as ice…
My sister and I laughed throughout the entire experience, sharing little tidbits with the doctor and I left urgent care with the assurance that although the corn would not survive, I was ok and would simply be left with a massive shiner. I think that our laughter really eased the tension that could have permeated the entire situation.
The Science behind Laughter
For many years scientist have studied laughter. They have studied the physical, mental and social benefits that laughter has, both short term and long term. The consensus seems to be: yes, laughter is a very strong medicine indeed.
The Physical Benefits of Laughter
There are several ways to look at physical benefits. From a medical view point, laughter can lower blood pressure, increase blood flow (which can protect against heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems) and reduce pain, allowing for an increased toleration of discomfort. In addition, it has been shown that a good laugh can leave the muscles in the body relaxed for up to 45 minutes following the laughter.
Laughter can also be seen as a great form of exercising. I know, I had to reread this statement several times myself to believe it. But laughter gives the muscles of your face, chest, shoulders, stomach and diaphragm a great workout. Think about it. Have you ever laughed so much that your face hurt? Or your stomach? That’s because you’re muscles have been working out!
There is also a big correlation between laughter immunity. Laughter can decrease the release of stress hormones and increase immunity cells. Additionally, infection-fighting antibodies get released with laughter, improving your overall response to infection and disease. And finally, laughter triggers the release of endorphins, those feel good chemicals that promote an overall sense of well-being.
Emotional Benefits of Laughter
I believe that some of the most beneficial effects of laughter have to do with the impact it has on mood. A simple belly laugh can ease anxiety, stress and tension, add joy to life and strengthen one’s resilience. If you really think about it, it’s hard to feel anxious or angry when you’re laughing.
Laughter can also shift one’s perspective, allowing an individual to see a situation in a more realistic light. Remember, a couple of weeks ago we spoke about anxiety and the irrational fears that it triggers. Laughter can bring you back to the present moment, opening your view of what is really occurring.
Laughter can also help you move on from trying situations without holding on to the bitterness or resentment that you may have felt. Because, really, why ruminate on resentment? Why let bitterness take up any more time then it should?
The Social Benefits of Laughter
We are naturally social creatures that seek out meaningful relationships and bonds. Laughing with others can help form meaningful connections between people as well as strengthen relationships that are already established. Studies have even shown that couples that laugh together report having a higher quality relationship as compared to those that laugh less often.
From a social perspective laughter connects people to one another, strengthens relationships and helps diffuse conflict. It can promote group bonding, enhance team work and promote a sense of togetherness and safety.
Think back to the good times you have spent with your friends and family. How many of them involve laughter? I know that sometimes I can’t even think about experiences I’ve had with friends without bursting into laughter. We had so much fun and laughed so hard in the moment, that even the memories cause me to laugh.
Bottom line, laughter makes us feel good.
As children we laughed so much. Look at your child, how much do they laugh and giggle? For some reason, as we age the giggles can be less frequent. But science has shown and continues to show the importance and positive benefits that laughter and its effects have on us. Try not to take yourself so seriously, and enjoy those belly laughs! 🤣