A couple of years ago a friend and I went to a laughing seminar. We walked into a room of about 15 people and sat around on cushions. The goal of the four hours was to learn about the different kinds of laughter, the overall health benefits, and also how laughter works.
During class we all tried out different pitches of laughter, some from our diaphragm, others from our chest, and we spent a good fifteen minutes lying on each other's stomachs while the person underneath laughed so we could feel where it came from. The more we laughed together, the longer we laughed, and when it came time to stop, it was near impossible. When we walked out, I felt lighter, happier, and more playful. It made me see how little I laughed in my day-to-day and what a great resource laughter is when I need a quick pick-me-up. I still have the handout from the workshop, and one of the bullet points says: A day without laughing is a day lost.
Besides the fact that laughing releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals, what is it about laughter that can turn a potential frustration into something funny and make an overwhelming situation seem more manageable? Why does laughter help?
It Gives Us Perspective
Have you ever been down about something and a friend makes a joke or says something that you can’t help but laugh at? It’s in this moment that laughing takes us out of the mind mush, making us forget for just a few minutes what the problem is.
Certified Laughter Yoga Leader Rhonda Lee, M.A.Ed., says, "Laughter brings us fully to the present moment, which is the same goal as meditation. In fact, if you are fully engaged in laughter, it is impossible for you to really focus on anything other than the laughter. It is during this pause that we are able to redirect out thoughts without trying, and a radical shift in perspective can occur. Also, laughter produces endorphins and boosts our serotonin levels as well. This means that our body has a chemical reaction that causes us to shift our perspective. And then there's cortisol, the hormone produced by stress. Laughter actually causes this stuff to lower as well. You can't not shift your perspective on events when this happens. It's like magic!"
Laughter creates distance from the lost wallet and flat tire. It opens the space around the problem we’re facing, making it easier to handle.
It Makes us Take Ourselves Less Seriously
A couple of years ago when someone would make a comment about how I liked wearing un-matching socks, I would get defensive. The time I went to a hockey game and looked down to see two different shoes on my feet, I beat myself up over it. I responded this way because I didn't know that laughing at myself could make the situation better.
"Laughter allows us fuller emotional expression," says Jeffrey Briar, Director of the Laughter Yoga Institute in Laguna Beach, CA. "When we express our vulnerability (and survive), this teaches us that we can be our true selves without fear. When we are a little vulnerable at the same time as we are being playful, we accept ourselves just as we are — and as we are not. Laughter teaches us to love ourselves."
Laughing at ourselves can help us improve our self-esteem by confirming that who we are, as we are, is unique. It gives us the opportunity to accept ourselves and to let go of judgment and criticism. As we do all of this, we not only improve our relationship with ourselves but also with those around us.
It Connects Us
There’s an old saying that a couple who laughs together stays together. Why? Because laughing binds people together, says Neuroscientist Robert Provine, Ph.D. Laughter establishes a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people.
Laughter can make us closer to our partners, friends, and family. By sharing moments of joy together, we feel safe, comfortable, and loved. "People who laugh together," says Briar, "enjoy being together. This is often true even if they do not have other things in common. Views on politics, religion or social values may differ widely, but even people who don’t share the same social values can enjoy sharing social laughter. Laughing with another person sends forth a powerful message of acceptance. Laughing with others in a non-judgmental, playful way generates spontaneous yet sincere feelings of friendliness and trust."
It Relieves Stress
One way to combat stress, especially in the workplace, is to bring in some laughs.
A study on humor, stress, and coping strategies found that those in a group with a high sense of humor had less stress and anxiety than those who experienced the same everyday problems but with lower sense of humor. The high humor group also used more positive reappraisal and problem solving strategies than the low humor group. What this means is that humor can make us more focused and productive, not only in the workplace but also in our everyday lives.
It Shows What You Feel
It’s hard to keep laughter in, so much so that sometimes I’ll hear people apologize after they laugh. A wonderful effect of laughter is that it forces us to show what we’re feeling. It brings emotions to the surface in an acceptable form of expression.
"Laughter is a socially acceptable, safe way to express joyful feelings," says Briar. "What many are not aware of is that by laughing we can also show, publicly, other feelings, such as vulnerability and a childlike intimacy. We can even express 'iffy' feelings like exasperation, frustration, bewilderment — but when such feelings are done as triggers for shared social laughing, the social consequence is usually compassionate — people feel for our less-than-wonderful feelings; and/or they join in the laughing. Laughter allows us fuller emotional expression."
It Improves Mood
When something TV or in a book I’m reading makes me laugh, it’s hard for me to feel angry or sad. "When we are laughing," says Briar, "we cannot be worried, anxious or stressed at the same time. Positive emotions generated by laughing exclude negative emotions. The practice of hearty laughter will dispel negative emotions like fear or resentment."
The more laughter we have in our lives, the more upbeat we are in our day-to-day. And the more we can see it as a technique to boost our mood, the easier it is for us to use when we get down in the dumps.
It Boosts Creativity
Have you ever noticed that you get your best ideas when you’re relaxed? Well, because laughter relieves stress, it also has a way of opening us up to our creative power.
A study on the effects of humor on creativity found that those who listened to a funny recording performed better on a creativity test than those who didn’t listen to the humorous record.
Lee says, "I have worked with many artists in using laughter to boost their creativity. Laughter de-clutters the brain and allows for clear and critical thinking skills to become more abundant. Also, laughter unifies the left and right brain, which can help us to unleash our creative skills."
So the next time you’re wracking your brain to get something out on the page or come up with a million-dollar idea for your next presentation, try laughing for a couple minutes. If you want to explore the positive effects of laughter even more, check out Creative Laughter events. It may be just what you need to open the creative floodgates.
It Can Heal Us
Laughter, as already noted, has a therapeutic quality. Studies have also proved this to be true.
In an Integrative Psychology article on the therapeutic value of laughter, Norman Cousins, who wrote more than 10 books on humor and healing, wrote, “the therapeutic value of laughter relates to the abatement of panic and its effects more than to any specific biochemical manifestations or changes.”
Even if it's just for an hour or two, laughter can relieve us from fear and anxiety.
The studies on laughter and its benefits have inspired laughter yoga, laughter meditation, laughter therapy, and humor therapy. And what's great about laughter is that it’s an easy to access (and free!) technique that we can use daily to help us improve our lives.
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