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The Healing Power of Laughter

What is it about a hearty laugh that makes us feel so good? Science confirms what we already know from experience, that laughter offers a direct boost to our happiness. Though the link between humor and well-being may seem obvious, it’s always nice to remind ourselves how satisfying an LOL (very scientific term πŸ˜†) can be.

What surprised me about researching this topic, was that everything I read about humor was not funny at all! Seriously, folks. A total snoozefest! Apparently, humor is no laughing matter 😜 (I’m trying really hard to rein in my emoji use! Really, I am!) My pledge to you is I will try my best to at least give you a few chuckles along the way, and if nothing else, I hope to prompt more moments of laughter as you move throughout your days.

For starters, a couple of jokes:

The word abbreviation sure is long for what it means.”

Zach Galifianakis

What’s another word for Thesaurus ?”

Steven Wright

Figured I’d kick things off with a little language humor πŸ˜„ You may or may not have chuckled at these jokes like I did, because as we all know, we each have our own distinct sense of humor.

Researchers have identified 4 specific categories of humor, which we all utilize to varying degrees:

  • Affiliative – banter used to connect with others
  • Self-enhancing – laughing at ourselves, often to cope with situations
  • Aggressive – teasing or criticism
  • Self-defeating – putting ourselves down

If you’re interested in learning more about your own style, check out this scientifically validated questionnaire. The idea is that our individual styles are a unique combination of these 4 categories, though I would personally add a 5th… Dorky humor πŸ˜›

And maybe a 6th? Guacamole humor!

card by Pretty Alright Goods

Guacamole humor is the best!

Why don’t they give us things we can actually use? I don’t need a thinner phone. You know what I need? I need a tortilla chip that can support the weight of guacamole.”

Ellen DeGeneres

You know the experience of laughing because you hear or see someone else laughing? Studies show that laughter is literally contagious – it’s like mirror neurons, but for our ears! This ripple effect of laughter passing from person to person, along with the validation of laughter’s mood-enhancing benefits, has prompted an unusual type of wellness class: Laughter Yoga.

Move over pilates, there’s a new core workout in town!

Laughter Yoga sounds silly, because it really is silly! This alternative approach to yoga combines breathing exercises with guided playfulness and laughter. What might begin as forced chuckles ends up in whole-hearted belly laughs.

If you want a taste of the experience, there’s a Ted talk that will take you through some brief, guided exercises. I gave it a try, and once I moved beyond feeling totally self-conscious 😬, I found myself really laughing along πŸ˜‚ Do try this at home, kids! I also enjoyed seeing how the audience shifted, from seemingly skeptical with arms crossed to being much more open and engaged.

What did the pirate say when he turned 80 years old?

Aye matey

Who doesn’t love a good pirate joke?! πŸ˜‰ Whether we’re giggling or howling, we experience so many benefits from laughing, both in the moment and beyond. Scientific studies have shown that having more humor and laughter in our lives:

  • Promotes overall well-being – in this study, people who attended a humor training experienced increased well-being and reported a decrease in depression, anxiety and stress
  • Elevates ‘feel-good’ hormones – laughter triggers the release of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, which are the brain chemicals associated with feeling happier and experiencing pleasure
  • Increases optimism – another study that placed people in a humor group, revealed a substantial increase in positive thinking and a greater sense of control, as compared with a social group and a group without any intervention
  • Lowers blood pressureresearch demonstrated how listening to 30 minutes of humor therapy twice a week for 8 weeks made a difference in the physical health of people undergoing dialysis
  • Connects us to one another – the social benefits of humor are highlighted in this study that showed how strangers who did tasks with humor felt a greater connection with each other than those who performed non-humorous tasks. We’re also 30 more times likely to laugh when we’re with other people than when we’re by ourselves
  • Helps us cope with challenges – utilizing humor during palliative care led to a a more positive experience for both the patients and caregivers

The beauty is that humor is a strength that exists in all of us, and we can access and develop it in many ways. Humor has even been formally identified by positive psychology research as one of 24 character strengths that support greater thriving in our lives. So what are we waiting for? It’s time to get this humor party started!

But first, a musical interlude: 🎼 Smooth Guacamole to the tune of Sade’s Smooth Operator. 🎀 “Smooth guacamole… Smooth guacamole…”

What are some ways to increase laughter and humor in our lives? Here are a handful of ideas:

  1. Do one thing to make yourself laugh today, AND one thing to make someone else laugh
  2. Watch a funny tv show or movie – our current favorites to watch as a family are The Good Place and Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  3. Laugh with a friend – try starting with forced laughter, and it might just progress into real belly laughter
  4. Every day for a week, write about three funny things that happened or that you did that day, as well as why they happened – in this study, people felt happier and reported decreased depression after completing this exercise
  5. The next time you’re struggling with a challenge, try to bring some humor or lightness to the situation. Though it may not always be possible, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re open to it
  6. Find some comic strips or images that make you laugh and put them up where you can enjoy them

I’d love to hear any other ideas you have. How might you bring more humor into your life? I’m interested to hear what makes you laugh! Please share πŸ˜ƒ

“From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere”

Dr. Seuss

Let’s all enjoy the funny things, and send laughter out to those around us. With more humor and laughter in it, the world will surely be a better place!