Haha yourself healthy: The surprising facts about laughter and your health

Even fake laughing can help brighten your mood.
 
 

By Kelly James-Enger

Contributor
 
Readers share: How do you get your laugh on?

Pillow fights, the tickle monster, crazy dancing with the kids, Eddie Murphy, America's Funniest Home Videos and reader Debbie Walton's goat call get the chuckles started. But mostly, our kids light up our laughter meter. Here's more of your laughter-inducing moments:

"To add more laughter to our lives we have what we like to call comed hour. We all take turns telling really corny jokes (most are so not funny you have to laugh). We do this once a week, the kids love it and so do we!"

Paula Woodfork


"My husband and I crack each other up by mimicking the lady in the IKEA commercial who hollers, "Start the car, start the CAR!" We'll use the same tone for other things like "mow the lawn" or "call the kids." It's corny but keeps us sane."

Anne Lewis


"For us it's simple. Our 2-year-old son loves to dance. The other day I popped in the 25th anniversary DVD of the historic Chicago Bears Super Bowl champs doing the 'Super Bowl Shuffle.' The funniest part was our son's final pose when the song ended. He even had on some 'Punky QB' sunglasses."

Jennifer Hayden


"My husband and I have a 6-month-old. We both work full time and with a first child, we are still getting used to the grind of new parenthood, careers, housekeeping, etc. Does anyone ever get "used to" it all? So when we get home from our hectic days, the first thing we do is put in a CD and dance with our baby. He giggles and smiles and when his giggles turn into belly laughs, we know, despite the craziness, we're doing some things right."

Heather Wilson


"We love to have our youngest make fish faces. It is so silly and cute; she really just makes us laugh with the littlest things!"

Denise Nelson


Laughter is evoked in our house by the most simple things: a knock-knock joke told by our 8-year-old son, tickle times, a little girl's giggle, mom's general clumsiness, dad's weird sense of humor, seeing a funny movie, and watching our pets' antics. My husband's motto is: Being normal is boring!"

Deanna Amann


"The way that my husband and I add more laughter to our lives is by looking back at our VERY OLD family videos when we were kids with our now 3-year-old son."

Julia Medina

Tips to find the funny

To embrace a find-the-funny attitude, give these strategies a try:

  • Spend time with people who make you laugh-whether it's your best friend, your neighbor or your workout buddy. "People laugh the most with other people-usually their friends and family," says Mary Bennett, director of the Western Kentucky University School of Nursing in Bowling Green.
  • Keep a "laughter library." My own includes books by cartoonists like Sylvia Hollander, Matt Groening or Lynda Barry, movies like "Caddyshack" and "Seinfeld" reruns.
  • Know what works for you-and use it. "You have to find something that works for you," says Bennett. "Humor is very self-selected." I find "The Simpsons" laugh-out-loud funny while my husband and son crack up at "Wipeout," where contestants attempt dangerous stunts often plummeting into the water below.
  • Call the laughter line. Laughter Yoga by phone is free, takes place about 14 times a day for 15-20 minutes at a time, and is led by people who see laughter as a service to the public. Or check out the website at laughteryogausa.com.
  • Check out a laughter club. There are dozens in the Chicago area; visit followthelaughter.com/clubs.htm to find a local club near you.
  • Model laughter. "The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else," says therapist James Masica. "You can teach yourself and your kids to react to life in a way that's healthier psychologically and physically."

My 7-month-old daughter is at the stage where she likes to grab things and try to shove them in her mouth. One of her favorite targets? The springy curls of her 5-year-old brother. We were playing on the floor together when she crawled over to him and yanked a handful of hair.

"Owwww! Haley hurt me!" Ryan's eyes filled with tears, and I knew I had two seconds to short-circuit a meltdown.

"Haley!" I said, gently extricating her chubby fingers from Ryan's curls. "Stop beating up your brother." Then I turned to Ryan. "Can you believe a baby is beating up a 5-year-old?" I shook my head. "That is totally crazy!"

Ryan stopped crying and started to laugh. "Yeah, that is crazy! I can't believe a little baby is beating me up!" Not only did we avert a crisis, now Ryan and I laugh every time Haley "brings the pain."

As a mom, I try to put a funny spin on things not only for my kids' benefit, but for my own. But I was surprised to learn that laughing not only makes me feel better, it's actually helping protect my health.

Laughing for a healthier life?

"Laughter and health are pretty closely related," says therapist James Masica, a public speaker who leads laughter workshops for a variety of audiences. "Laughter is a physical act-it's different than comedy or humor. The physical act of laughter changes our body chemistry in a number of significant ways. Basically everything that can be made better is made better-your blood pressure drops, your immune system is bolstered, serotonin (a brain chemical that produces a feeling of relaxation) and endorphins are released."

Published research has proven a link between laughter and immune systems, says Mary Bennett, director of the Western Kentucky University School of Nursing in Bowling Green. "There have been several studies looking at different aspects of laughter and health that show a brief period of laughter boosts the immune system, which fights off disease and helps fight off cancer," she says.

"But we don't know what the dose of laughter needs to be and we don't know how long the effect lasts."

In addition, laughter has a beneficial effect on cardiovascular function.

"When you laugh, you take nice deep breaths, you get more oxygen and your blood pressure and heart rate go up," Bennett says. "Then afterwards, they drop. There's a tension/release effect."

That effect also may help with how stressed you feel.

Bennett conducted studies where people reported their stress levels before and after watching a funny video. Those who watched a funny video (compared with those who watched a travel video) reported less stress afterwards. Those who watched the travel video reported no change in stress levels. The change in perceived stress was attributed to laughing.

"This isn't just about watching a funny video or listening to a comedian," says Bennett. "You have to laugh to get the related improvement. … There's something about the physiology and the mental release of laughing that works."

Surprisingly, even "fake" laughter can produce these kinds of benefits. One often-cited study found that adults who forced themselves to laugh for one minute reported an improved mood afterwards.

"We think something funny happens and then we laugh," says Masica. "But think of first laughing and then things seem to be funny. The body doesn't know and doesn't care if we're laughing at our favorite comedy or because we decide to push air out of our diaphragm."

Simulated laughter changes your body chemistry just like real laughter, she says. "Your stress hormones go down, the world looks brighter, and you find yourself less annoyed and less hassled at the petty annoyances of life."

More people are taking time to laugh-laughter clubs have sprung up throughout the country and "laughter yoga" is gaining popularity, too. With laughter yoga, created by a family physician in India in 1998, people get together to do a series of exercises to stimulate laughter; even forced laughter soon morphs into spontaneous laughter.

It may sound funny, pardon the pun, to get together with other people to laugh, but adherents say it works.

"You might feel silly before you do it or when you start doing it, but it feels good," says Masica.

Add more laughter in your life

Even with laughter clubs and laughter yoga, though, adults laugh far less often than children. "The ratio is about one-tenth," says Masica. "Children laugh about 200 to 300 times a day while adults laugh 12 to 20 times a day."

So how can you boost your own laughter quotient?

First, make an effort to look at the funny side of things.

"You've got to cultivate a mental atmosphere within yourself," says Masica. "You can choose your response to what happens to you. So when that guy on the freeway cuts you off, you have a choice. You can choose to pound the steering wheel or you can laugh and say, 'What are you going to do?'"

In addition, "find out what pushes your laughter button and go expose yourself to as much of it as you can," says Bennett. "A daily dose of laughter is a great thing."

For me, there's nothing like the sound of my children laughing together. Their laughter is truly joyous-and contagious. If it's keeping me healthy, too, that's just a wonderful bonus.

Kelly James-Enger laughs as much as she possibly can from Downers Grove-especially when she's hanging out with her mom, who passed on a goofy sense of humor.

Readers share: How do you get your laugh on?

Pillow fights, the tickle monster, crazy dancing with the kids, Eddie Murphy, America's Funniest Home Videos and reader Debbie Walton's goat call get the chuckles started. But mostly, our kids light up our laughter meter. Here's more of your laughter-inducing moments:

"To add more laughter to our lives we have what we like to call comed hour. We all take turns telling really corny jokes (most are so not funny you have to laugh). We do this once a week, the kids love it and so do we!"

Paula Woodfork


"My husband and I crack each other up by mimicking the lady in the IKEA commercial who hollers, "Start the car, start the CAR!" We'll use the same tone for other things like "mow the lawn" or "call the kids." It's corny but keeps us sane."

Anne Lewis


"For us it's simple. Our 2-year-old son loves to dance. The other day I popped in the 25th anniversary DVD of the historic Chicago Bears Super Bowl champs doing the 'Super Bowl Shuffle.' The funniest part was our son's final pose when the song ended. He even had on some 'Punky QB' sunglasses."

Jennifer Hayden


"My husband and I have a 6-month-old. We both work full time and with a first child, we are still getting used to the grind of new parenthood, careers, housekeeping, etc. Does anyone ever get "used to" it all? So when we get home from our hectic days, the first thing we do is put in a CD and dance with our baby. He giggles and smiles and when his giggles turn into belly laughs, we know, despite the craziness, we're doing some things right."

Heather Wilson


"We love to have our youngest make fish faces. It is so silly and cute; she really just makes us laugh with the littlest things!"

Denise Nelson


Laughter is evoked in our house by the most simple things: a knock-knock joke told by our 8-year-old son, tickle times, a little girl's giggle, mom's general clumsiness, dad's weird sense of humor, seeing a funny movie, and watching our pets' antics. My husband's motto is: Being normal is boring!"

Deanna Amann


"The way that my husband and I add more laughter to our lives is by looking back at our VERY OLD family videos when we were kids with our now 3-year-old son."

Julia Medina

Tips to find the funny

To embrace a find-the-funny attitude, give these strategies a try:

  • Spend time with people who make you laugh-whether it's your best friend, your neighbor or your workout buddy. "People laugh the most with other people-usually their friends and family," says Mary Bennett, director of the Western Kentucky University School of Nursing in Bowling Green.
  • Keep a "laughter library." My own includes books by cartoonists like Sylvia Hollander, Matt Groening or Lynda Barry, movies like "Caddyshack" and "Seinfeld" reruns.
  • Know what works for you-and use it. "You have to find something that works for you," says Bennett. "Humor is very self-selected." I find "The Simpsons" laugh-out-loud funny while my husband and son crack up at "Wipeout," where contestants attempt dangerous stunts often plummeting into the water below.
  • Call the laughter line. Laughter Yoga by phone is free, takes place about 14 times a day for 15-20 minutes at a time, and is led by people who see laughter as a service to the public. Or check out the website at laughteryogausa.com.
  • Check out a laughter club. There are dozens in the Chicago area; visit followthelaughter.com/clubs.htm to find a local club near you.
  • Model laughter. "The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else," says therapist James Masica. "You can teach yourself and your kids to react to life in a way that's healthier psychologically and physically."
 
 







 
 
 
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