Do you take time out each week, or even day, to do something that tickles your funny bone? Would you say you’re generally happy? Would people describe you as being cheerful and having a good sense of humor?
Most people don’t ask themselves these questions, but they probably should. Each year brings fresh evidence to support the idea that thoughts, moods and emotions have an impact on the body’s basic health and healing mechanisms.
Studies show the body’s healing system responds favorably to love, hope, optimism, caring, intimacy, joy, laughter, and humor, and negatively to such emotions and states as hate, hopelessness, pessimism, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
This being the case, you’re going to want to be as positive and happy as possible. That’s a tall order – especially in these challenging economic times – but definitely something worth working on. And the upside is you’ll feel great.
It’s difficult to feel stressed or depressed when you’ve got your giggle on. So, pick up that DVD box set of your favorite comedy show. It’s actually good for you!
Dr. Paul McGhee, president of the Laughter Remedy, shows us how humor contributes to good health:
- Muscle Relaxation. Research has shown that muscle relaxation results from a good belly laugh. Try it. Get a good chuckle going for 30 seconds and see how you feel. One study even showed that people using a biofeedback apparatus were able to relax muscles more quickly after watching funny cartoons than after looking at beautiful scenery.
- Reduction of Stress Hormones. When you’re under stress, your body undergoes a series changes, including hormonal ones, which make up the ‘fight or flight’ response. Even though there is no physical threat to your life, your body reacts as if there were. If you’re under this stress day after day this poses a serious threat to your health. Anything that reduces that level of stress hormones in the blood on the regular basis helps reduce this health threat. Research on stress-related hormones and humor has shown that laughter reduces at least four neuroendocrine hormones associated with the stress response, including cortisol, dopac, epinephrine, and growth hormone. So, get to the comedy club once a week to unwind. You’ll be healthier for it.
- Immune System Enhancement. For a long time, we’ve known stress weakens the immune system, but only since the mid-1980s did researchers start to study the impact of humor and laughter on the immune system. The best evidence that humor boosts the immune system comes from studies where immune system measures were taken before and after a humorous event.
- Immunoglobulins. Most of the research to date has focused on immunoglobulin A. This is a part of your immune system which serves to protect you against upper respiratory problems, such as colds and the flu. Our saliva contains immunoglobulin A and is often referred to as the body’s first line of defense against upper respiratory viral and bacterial infections. Here is the interesting part: several studies have shown that watching as little as 30 to 60 minutes of a comedy video is enough to increase both salivary IgA and blood levels of IgA. This has been shown for both adults and kids.
- Cellular Immunity. Several different aspects of the cellular immune system have been shown to be enhanced by watching a comedy video. B cells, which are produced in the bone marrow, are responsible for making the immunoglobulins. If you count the number of these cells in the blood before and after a comedy video, you can see a significant increase in the number of B cells circulating throughout the body. Watching a one-hour comedy also elevates the activity and number of natural killer cells, the number and level of activation of helper-T cells, and the ratio of helper to suppresser T-cells. Natural killer cells have the role of seeking out and destroying tumor cells in the body.
- Pain Reduction. Dozens of studies have now documented that humor has the power to reduce pain in many patients. In a study of 35 patients in a rehabilitation hospital, 74% agreed with the statement, “Sometimes laughing works as well as a pain pill.” So, why is there a reduction in pain following laughter? One possibility is distraction. Humor draws attention away from the source of discomfort. The most common explanation given, however, is that laughter causes the production of endorphins, one of the body’s natural pain killers. The pain-laughter connection can also be partly attributed to the reduction of muscle tension. Even brief relaxation procedures have been shown to reduce pain, and laughter acts much the same way.
Now that you better understand the mechanisms behind the healing power of humor, I’d like to hear from YOU.
What techniques are you using to increase the amount of laughter and joy in your life? Please share how these methods are working for you, so we can all benefit from your experiences.