Q. Is there any truth to the old saying "Laughter is the best medicine"?
Lots of truth. Laughter simply makes you feel good and this is beneficial to you in many ways. We come into this world knowing how to laugh. Infants begin smiling in their first weeks; they laugh out loud within months of being born. We must have been given this ability for a reason.
Laughter has been shown to prevent heart disease, reduce stress, elevate immunity, ease anxiety, alleviate pain, relax muscles, elevate mood, develop emotional resilience and strengthen relationships.
A recent study found that humor can reduce agitation in people with dementia.
Researchers included 399 nursing home residents who had dementia or other age-related problems. They were visited weekly by an ElderClown. It was found that the participants in the clown sessions had a 20 percent decrease in overall agitation. This benefit lasted for at least 14 weeks after the program ended.
- Relaxes the whole body. A major guffaw relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
- Decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, which improves your resistance to disease.
- Triggers the release of endorphins, chemicals that promote a sense of well-being and relieve pain.
- Improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
Humor strengthens our relationships by creating emotional connection. When we laugh with one another, a positive bond is created. This bond acts as a strong buffer against disagreements. And humor is a powerful way to heal hurt feelings.
In the 1960s Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, was stricken with a life-threatening form of arthritis. Cousins took high doses of vitamin C and of positive emotions. He included daily doses of belly laughter. He wrote about his recovery in the best-selling “Anatomy of an Illness” published in 1979.
In the book, he affirmed that "the life force may be the least understood force on earth" and that "human beings are not locked into fixed limitations. The quest for perfectibility is not a presumption or a blasphemy but the highest manifestation of a great design."
But suppose your sense humor isn't very strong. Are there ways to build up your laugh muscles? Here are few pointers:
- Don't take yourself so seriously. You're not alone and you shouldn't feel the world is ending because you're dealing with adversity. You'll be amazed sometimes that you can laugh under the worst conditions.
- Think about your most embarrassing moments; they usually get you off your high horse and make you laugh.
- Find some image that makes you laugh and put it on a wall where you can see it every day. Use it as a screensaver on your computer.
- Buy toys for yourself. I keep my first camera — a 1960s Minolta SLR — on my desk. I set it for a one-second exposure and then start the self-timer. I listen to it wind down and make a long click. It's fun.
- Spend time with children. Get on the floor with them, and play their silly games. I do this with my grandchildren, and it makes me roar with laughter.
Remember the words of that great sage, Groucho Marx: "A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast."