Every year, at this time of year, tensions mount. The arrival of the gift-giving holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah (“What should I get my mother-in-law?”) accompanied by impending vacations from school (“What will we do with the kids all cooped up in the bad weather?”) collide with the week-long visits of friends and relatives (“Will my divorced parents fight in front of the kids? What will we do with everyone? How can we feed a group with two vegetarians, a die-hard carnivore, and six fussy kids?”). These questions and others like them threaten to put most of us over the proverbial edge.
What can you do to prevent the slippery slope of irritability and overwhelm? How do healthy families manage? Although the complete answer to these questions could fill an entire book, the swiftest solution is to find the humor wherever possible. As William James, the father of modern psychology, so aptly said over a hundred years ago: “We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we are happy because we laugh.”
Did you know that the average kindergartner laughs 300 times a day–in vivid contrast to adults who average only 17 laughs a day? They also indulge in generous amounts of spontaneous play. Now that is something to stop and think about. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to start counting my giggles and see if I can get back into the hundreds. Clearly, most of us grown-ups are taking life far too seriously for our own good. The more stresses that build up, the more essential that we find something, anything, to laugh about.
Not only will our laughter make the holidays go more merrily, but we will be less likely to catch the latest virus. Although we have known instinctively for millennia that laughter, like crying, can be a powerful antidote to pain and suffering, the scientific world is catching up. According to the American Association for Therapeutic Humor, laughter may have a direct effect on the body’s ability to fight infections, boosting the number of “killer” white blood cells produced to attack viruses and bacteria.
“We now have laboratory evidence that mirthful laughter stimulates most of the major physiologic systems of the body,” said William Fry, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School, and expert on the relationship of humor to health. According to Fry, a good belly-laugh brings about physiological changes similar to aerobic exercise, speeding up the heart rate, increasing blood circulation and working numerous muscles all over the body.
Fry and his researchers believe laughter may help prevent heart attacks and strokes by easing tension, relieving stress and reducing anger. It can also help lower levels of anxiety, depression, and other negative mood states which leave the sufferer vulnerable to illnesses of all sorts. This is just a small sample of the positive effects of laughter.
In short, the scientists have come to the same conclusion….Laughter is indeed good medicine, and should be added to the list of things we do each day to prevent serious diseases. And since no one has ever died of laughter that I know of, this is a super powerful medicine with no known side effects- other than, perhaps, increased happiness and longevity for you and your family. If the ability to laugh could be packaged and sold, customers would be lined up around the block to get it.
Start with a smile. Even pretend smiles begin to work their magic, and when you smile at others, they generally smile back.
Watch funny movies rather than heavy dramas or the news.
Spend time with friends who have a good sense of humor rather than the grumpy complainers.
Put funny sayings and photos up on your refrigerator, mirror, and computer desktop to help you chuckle when needed.
Remember to count your blessings, telling friends or family members about what went well today rather than what you didn’t get done.
When you start to get upset, ask yourself whether this issue is as serious as you think. Is it life or death? Is it worth ruining your day (an hour, a minute) over? Is there anything you can do about it anyway?
Finally, given that everything is not going to get done anyway, stop rushing. Take time to play with your children, have a good laugh or cry, take a few deep breaths, and allow the present moment to be the gift you give yourself. Tee-hee.
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Last reviewed: 11 Dec 2012