Celebrate International Joke Day: July 1st

The good news is that it’s true: laughter brings about all sorts of positive things. It relieves stress, depression, and anxiety. It strengthens the immune system, boosts mood, and reduces pain.

Laughing elicits a cocktail of hormones, releasing endorphins, which are chemicals that block the perception of pain and increase feelings of well-being. And it lowers cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone that affects mood, motivation and fear. Laughing also releases dopamine, a chemical that mediates pleasure in the brain.

laughterHow does laughter do all this? Humor is defined as “the capacity to express or perceive what’s funny” and, according to a study on humor therapy, laughter is the “most common behavioral expression of a humorous experience.” The study continues: “Humor has been shown to increase lung capacity, strengthen abdominal muscles, and increase immunoglobulin A, which is one of the major antibodies produced by the immune system. Humor causes reductions in cortisol, growth hormones, and epinephrine [adrenaline]. Following laughter or other humorous encounters, natural killer cell activity, immunoglobulin G [an antibody that protects against bacterial and viral infections] and immunoglobulin M [the first antibody the body makes when it fights a new infection] levels increase for as long as 12 hours, and these evaluations bring about beneficial health outcomes. The use of humor consistently results in improvements in pain thresholds.”

The short-term benefits of a good laugh involve physical changes in the body. The Mayo Clinic, the American not-for-profit medical center, declares that laugher can: 

Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.”

The long-term benefits are equally advantageous. Laughter may:

Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your stress, depression, and anxiety and may make you feel happier. It can also improve your self-esteem.”

And additional good news is that humor can be learned. The Mayo Clinic also provides valuable tips on how to improve one’s sense of humor:

Put humor on your horizon. Find a few simple items, such as photos, greeting cards, or comic strips, that make you chuckle. Then hang them up at home or in your office, or collect them in a file or notebook. Keep funny movies, TV shows, books, magazines, or comedy videos on hand for when you need an added humor boost. Look online at joke websites or silly videos. Listen to humorous podcasts. Go to a comedy club.
Laugh and the world laughs with you. Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away. Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.
Consider trying laughter yoga. In laughter yoga, people practice laughter as a group. Laughter is forced at first, but it can soon turn into spontaneous laughter.
Share a laugh. Make it a habit to spend time with friends who make you laugh. And then return the favor by sharing funny stories or jokes with those around you.
Knock, knock. Browse through your local bookstore or library’s selection of joke books and add a few jokes to your list that you can share with friends.”

Laughter activates the body’s natural relaxation response. It’s like internal jogging, providing a good massage to all internal organs while also toning abdominal muscles. – Dr. Gulshan Sethi, Head of cardiothoracic surgery, Tucson Medical Center, Arizona

It’s also true that humor therapy, also called laughter therapy, is known to help relieve pain and stress and improve a person’s sense of well-being. According to the US National Cancer Institute, “It may be used to help people cope with a serious disease, such as cancer. Humor therapy may include laughter exercises, clowns, and comedy movies, books, games, and puzzles. It is a type of complementary therapy” not based on medication. The study on relieving chronic pain and enhancing happiness for older adults states that “the use of humor therapy appears to be an effective … intervention in chronic pain management, enhancing happiness and life satisfaction, and reducing loneliness for older people.” The research affirms that the “materials for creating a humorous environment include funny movies, audio and videotapes of humorous songs, books, and games for patients of every age. The use of the joke of the day on the internet, jokes, and funny stories all add value in helping patients.”

A healthy response to life is laughter. It’s contagious and positive. So smile more and even force a few chuckles. Then watch a funny video, share a joke, or read a comic book. It’ll be fun, and good for you!

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