Humor Therapy, Hilarity Can Be Healthy

Try this first.
Smile. Regardless of how you’re feeling now, put a great big grin on your face, preferably one that goes all the way to your eyes (you want to involve as many muscles as possible here). Now, see if you feel any different. If you do, you probably feel better. The next time you’re a little down, give this a shot. It’s one variation on the “Fake it ’til you make it” theory-which works most of the time, by the way.

You’ve just discovered the main benefit of humor therapy:

Smiling makes you feel better.
Smiling and laughter can turn negative emotions into positive ones. They help us feel better about ourselves and about our lives.

Plus, humor helps us detach a little from our problems. It not only gives us a brief “break” from what’s happening, but also helps us be more objective about it.

Grownups don’t smile enough.
Babies start smiling at about one month of age, and laughing soon after. And once they start, they keep doing it-over and over as they go through early childhood. Then at some point they start getting messages-sometimes hidden and sometimes obvious-to take life more seriously. So they do, because it seems more “mature.”

In fact, eventually they make take life so seriously that by the time they’re adults they can go for days, weeks, or even longer without smiling. Think about the people you know. Are there any who you’ve never seen smile? Ever?

Is this a good thing? You probably already know the answer.

But you may be wondering-how can humor be healing?

Laughter is good exercise.
We hear a lot about how good aerobic exercise is for the body. Well, a good belly laugh can be aerobic too! When you’re laughing hard you breathe more deeply, and your heart rate goes up-just as it does when you’re exercising-which gets more oxygen into your system. And while your heart and respiratory rates are going up, one other “vital sign” is going down-your blood pressure.

Laughter also helps the release of endorphins. If you haven’t heard of these, they’re brain chemicals that help relieve pain and generally help us feel good. Norman Cousins, in his book Anatomy of an Illness, wrote about how he could sleep without pain for almost two hours after a good long belly laugh. (In case you haven’t read his book, the “illness” of the title was not something minor. It was ankylosing spondylitis, which causes severe pain and paralysis and has a very low recovery rate. Cousins beat the odds and recovered almost fully from this disease, crediting the many hours he spent watching Marx Brothers and Three Stooges films while he was ill.)

Another positive effect of humor is that it increases the level of immunoglobulin A (IgA) in the saliva. As you may have guessed from its name, IgA helps the body fight off infection-in this case, the common cold. So laughing more often may help you catch cold less often.

Humor in hospitals
Seems almost like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? With so much illness and even death occurring, hospitals can be serious places. But many are discovering that even a small dose of laughter can do a world of good-and not just for the patients! Check out these examples:
– The Big Apple Circus’s Clown Care Unit (yes, it’s called the CCU-but this one is probably a lot more fun than a “regular” CCU)
– The Carolina Health and Humor Association (also called Carolina HaHa), which runs the Laugh Mobile at the Duke University Medical Center
– The Comedy Cart program at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Florida

Well, this all good to know. But I’m healthy, so why do I need humor?
It’s great that you’re in such good shape. But do you ever have days when everything seems to go wrong? Do you ever have to deal with upset customers, coworkers, friends, or family members? Do you ever find yourself in traffic jams-on the freeway or maybe even in the grocery checkout lane?

Even healthy people have to deal with everyday stress. Of course there are many ways to do that-yoga, meditation, a cigarette, a six pack… Well, here are a few more ways:

Laugh at yourself. In other words, don’t take yourself so seriously all the time. We all make mistakes. It’s easy to get angry or embarrassed when this happens, but wouldn’t it feel better just to laugh and move on?

Try to find humor in situations that don’t seem to have any. This isn’t always possible, of course, but start small. Try to give yourself something to laugh about every single day. And keep something humorous within easy reach for those times when the serious surprises you.

Spread the laughter around. This does not mean that you should make fun of people. It does mean trying to get people to laugh with you. You won’t always succeed, of course. (Some people are just determined to be miserable.) But you might as well try. Why should you be the only one having fun?

And finally, remember that “Attitude is Everything.” Laughter can really help you improve your attitude.

All right, now try smiling again. Wasn’t it easier this time?

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