Abraham Lincoln was famous for saying “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” This suggests that when it comes to being happy we have a choice. Most of us would agree that happiness, positivity and a good sense of humor (finding something to laugh about) can be a saving grace in trying situations. Researchers support this experience by documenting the practical benefits of laughter including improved productivity and workplace performance. But did you know that laughter and a positive outlook might be your best natural medicine?
Laughter for Good Health
Researchers have been finding that happiness and laughter can create positive physiological and biochemical changes that are not only natural health boosters but which are essential for long life and perfect health. Happiness protects the heart, strengthens the immune system and combats stress. Happy people have reported having fewer aches and pains. Researchers also suggest that being happy seems to help prevent disease and promote longevity.
Consider the remarkable story of Norman Cousins. An American political journalist and longtime editor of the Saturday Review, who when plagued with an incurable disease literally laughed his way to good health. In 1964, after a trip to Russia, he began to experience symptoms of joint pain and fever. He was diagnosed with an illness that attacks the connective tissue. While recovering, he began to research the effects of stress on the body and found that stress could adversely affect the immune system. He subsequently concluded that if stress had contributed to his illness, then positive emotions would assist in his recovery. As the story goes, he then checked out of the hospital and into a nearby hotel room where he watched the Marx Brothers and other comedy movies. He then claimed that 10 minutes of belly laughter gave him many hours of pain-free sleep. He supplemented this large dose of laughter with massive doses of vitamin C.
As a result of this non-invasive if not rather unusual course of treatment, Norman Cousins was soon off of pain killers and other medications. His book “Anatomy of An Illness” documented his experimental treatment and the Journal of the American Medical Association acknowledged that laughter therapy could help to improve the quality of life for patients with chronic illness. Cousins later established the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology and became a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine.
Physiological Correlates of Laughter
What happens physiologically in response to laughter? Laughter researchers found that laughter has positive effects on the neuroendocrine-immune axis by reducing stress hormones. Levels of cortisol, epinephrine and dihydroxyphenylacetic acid have all been shown to decrease after laughter. Laughter also boosts the activity of the immune system while decreasing the stress induced inflammatory response. Specifically, the activity of natural killer cells (the cells that fight cancer) and the levels of circulating antibodies (the proteins that target infections) are both increased by laughter. Additional research points to a reduction in growth hormones which may be deregulated in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Laughter also increases endorphins resulting in a significant decrease in pain.
As amazing as it may sound, research suggests that laughter has a positive effect on people with cardiovascular disease. It increases good cholesterol and blood flow. Laughter can also have a positive physiological effect similar to a light workout, improving metabolism to such an extent that ten to fifteen minutes of hearty laughter can burn off fifty calories. Laughter may even improve brain functioning, mental clarity and memory.
Today’s progressive medical centers and alternative health practitioners throughout the world are open to using the healing power of laughter by offering laughing therapy as an adjunct to traditional treatment. Studies show that patients in laughter groups have less anxiety, less need for pain medications and stronger immune responses. Thus, laughter can help with stress and help to avert the stress before it happens.
World Laughter Day
Laughter Yoga was founded to promote world peace through laughter. Because laughing causes the body to release certain ‘feel good hormones’ into the blood stream it supports positive emotions including happiness, tolerance, forgiveness, generosity and compassion. Simultaneously, the ‘feel good hormones’ protect the mind and physiology from negative tendencies such as hatred, violence, aggression and war.
According to Laughter Yoga, when people face enormous stress they become at war with themselves. Because laughter is an overwhelmingly positive emotion which facilitates effortless change from within, on that basis individuals can change their world. Laughter is a universal language which transcends boundaries of geography, culture, belief, politics and religion.
People worldwide will celebrate World Laughter Day on Sunday May 7, 2017. Sponsored by Dr. Madan Katara and the worldwide Laughter Yoga movement, the celebration of World Laughter Day is a positive manifestation for world peace intended to build a global consciousness of brotherhood and friendship through laughter. According to Dr. Katara “Laughter is a positive and powerful emotion that has all the ingredients required for individuals to change themselves and to change the world in a peaceful and positive way.” World Laughter Day is most often celebrated by global gatherings of people in public places with the sole purpose of laughing!
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Simi Summer, PhD is an organic advocate, independent researcher, educator, and free lance writer. She is a strong proponent of organic consumer education and informed consumer choices.