Mindful laughter: A mind-body health practice

Learn how laughter builds resiliency to stress and disease, strengthens muscle and builds lung capacity — as well as how to cultivate it into your daily life.

A young woman with pink hair laughing outside.
Photo: Pexels/Anastasiya Lobanovskaya.

Ever feel that you are disconnected, like your mind is saying one thing and your body another?  One way to get our bodies and minds to work in harmony is to laugh more often. Most health routines are promoting focused attention on physical health as well as our mental and spiritual health to include what is referred to as a mind-body connection or whole-body health. The book "Compassionate Laughter-Jest for Life" by Patty Wooten states that to become whole means to balance our physical body, our thoughts and our spiritual awareness. The phrase “to heal” comes from the Latin word, “haelen,” which means to “make whole.” Wooten states that when we allow ourselves to laugh daily, as well as during difficult or stressful times, we can facilitate our healing. Humor can help make us whole again. Humor can stimulate healing in our physical body, bring peace to our emotions and strengthen our will to live.

Mirthful laughter (laughter at what we consider to be truly funny) has been proven to have a profound effect on the body, mind and spirit. Laughter is a cardiovascular exercise in that it makes our hearts beat stronger, our blood flow more briskly and more oxygen is delivered to our cells. It is also a pulmonary exercise in that we breathe deeper and exhale more fully. Our diaphragm and abdominal muscles get a workout too from a good laugh. Mirthful laughter can stimulate our immune system, increase our protection against viruses, bacteria and even cancer.

The book "Laughter – A Scientific Investigation" by Robert Provine provides some tips for increasing laughter in everyday life:

  • Create a safe casual atmosphere. Time-pressured, harried people don’t laugh as much, so try to create environments that feel relaxed and safe.
  • Adopt a laugh-ready attitude. Voluntarily choose to laugh more.
  • Exploit the contagious laugh effect. Laugh often and out loud. Laughter causes laughter, so seek out cheerful, good-natured people.
  • Find humorous material. Use jokes, cartoons, videos, fidget toys, interactive toys and games, hats, clothing, art and more. 
  • Stage safe social events. Social happenings, like a video chat with friends, can bring people together, maximizing opportunities to try many of the already mentioned tips. 

Michigan State University Extension provides a social-emotional health program entitled Mindful Laughter that is part of the five-session Stress Less with Mindfulness series that provides research about the health benefits of Mindfulness and strategies on how to cultivate it into your daily lives. For more information, visit MSU Extension's Mindfulness for Better Living website.

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