If you are a parent, think about the first time your baby smiled at you–not the cute quirky face brought on by tummy problems–but the smile of recognition. How did it make you feel?
If you haven’t had this experience, remember a time that you belly laughed with a friend or watched a stupid pet trick on YouTube. If you still haven’t thought of something that makes you laugh, take a minute and watch this clip.
Clearly, we were born to laugh, and now we know that laughter can heal emotional wounds, protect us from the ravages of stress, and help us feel connected to others.
Just as we know that anger creates a cascade of physiological reactions in our brain and body intended to help us survive, so does the expression of any emotion. It turns out that laughter (and tears, which often come together) brings about healing rather than harm to our bodies. How does it do this?
In the short term, a good case of the giggles relaxes the whole body, relieving physical tension and stress. Because we breathe more deeply, it stimulates our heart, lungs and muscles. Endorphins, the feel good hormones, get released by the brain giving us a temporary natural high. Our anxiety and fear lessen, and our mood can change quickly from upset to increased well-being.
In the long run, studies confirm that people who laugh on a regular basis have stronger immune systems, combatting the effects of daily stress. For those suffering from chronic pain, it serves as a natural painkiller. It has also been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.
One of the evolutionary purposes for laughter and play was to help us to connect with other people, including strangers, and thus to lower aggression and fear. Haven’t you noticed how laughter, like other emotions, is contagious?
A powerful example of just how much the world is longing for laughter is the story of Madan Kataria, now known widely as the Laughter Guru. Kataria began doing laughter yoga in Mumbai, India in 1995 with a small group of people in a public park. The practice rapidly spread worldwide, and as of 2011, there were more than 8,000 Laughter Clubs in 65 countries.
Former Monty Python comedian, John Cleese, went to India to visit Kataria to see what the fuss was all about. Based on the theory that voluntary laughter provides the same benefits as spontaneous laughter, the group begins with fake laughter that rapidly dissolves into joyful play. Cleese shares the power of his experience: “I was struck by how laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy….Laughter is a force for democracy.”
Laughter also can improve the quality and resilience of our relationships with parents, partners, children and co-workers. It triggers positive feelings that help us let go of judgments, defensiveness and petty resentments. It brings us together during difficult moments, and infuses our relationships with more zest and vitality.
Now that you’ve been convinced that laugher is indeed one of the best and cheapest medicines around–and one with no debilitating side effects–here’s how can you bring more playfulness and humor into your life…
Tip #1: Watch comedy for a change. If you only watch the intense, serious movies or TV shows–the ones with murder and mayhem, villains and victims, tragic characters, and terrifying scenarios–it is easy to think of the world as a place of fear and darkness. Add movies or shows that celebrate the wonders of life and that make you laugh or smile.
Tip #2: Spend time with people who laugh easily and who don’t take themselves quite so seriously. If you have difficulty lightening up, you need to find a happy mentor or laughter guru. Check out the local comedy club if all your friends are too serious. If you are really bold, join an improv class.
Tip #3: Find other props to help you laugh. Go to the library and check out cartoons books, joke books, or funny novels. Watch funny clips on YouTube, and learn more about your own unique sense of humor.
Tip #4: Never miss an opportunity to goof around with children or babies. Since typically kids have not yet lost the natural ability to play and be silly, make time to join them, especially when they are having fun.
Tip #5: Incorporate play time into your week. Many parents are very conscientious when it comes to arranging play dates for their kids but forget to do the same for themselves. Do activities that make you happy like miniature golf, board games, dancing, karaoke, or just playing with your pet.
Tip #6: Bring humor into your conversations. Ask friends about what makes them laugh or what funny movies they recommend. Ask co-workers about the funniest thing that has happened to them this week. Notice the different conversation that gets going when you ask “How are you?” versus “What made you happy this week?”
Tip #7: Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up. Put up pictures in your office that are guaranteed to make you smile–photos of your children laughing, silly posters, happy faces. Get daily jokes or cartoons sent to your email. Have toys in your work area that make you or others smile. (If you haven’t seen the laughing dog, check it out.)
TIp #8: Start with a smile. Fake it ’til you make it. Even fake smiles stimulate positive biological responses in the brain. Try saying the long vowel sound “eeeeeee” or saying “hee hee her” for while and see what happens. Watch the Laughter Guru in action.
One of my favorite quotes when I find that I am taking myself and my life challenges way too seriously, is from G. K. Chesterton who taught, “The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly.” Now that’s a good one to write on the mirror.