Laughter has serious benefits

Laughter has physical, emotional, mental and social health benefits.

No amount of running or other exercise massages our insides and settles or resets our mood the way laughter does.

Laughter has been called the universal language and described as being ageless. Picture a baby’s first belly laugh or seeing an older adult’s eyes light up with laughter. No matter what your age, laughter is good medicine that everyone enjoys doing. Maybe you haven’t thought of laughing as an exercise. Laughter has been used as a therapy for centuries to help heal, and today, laughter is fast becoming a popular form of exercise due to its physical, mental, emotional and spiritual powers.

Physical powers

In Dr. Annette Goodheart’s book, “Laughter Therapy,” a whole chapter is dedicated to the physical benefits of laughter, because it engages every major system in the body. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates our abdominal cavity from our chest cavity, and it is the only muscle in our body that is attached to other muscles. When we laugh, our diaphragm convulsively pulls on our side muscles and shakes up our stomach and other vital organs. Smiling and or laughing causes a variety of physiological changes to our face. Some of the most noticeable are:

  • Upper corners of our mouth turn upward.
  • Eyelids raise.
  • Eyebrows are elevated.
  • Skin on outer sides of eyes puckers.
  • Nostrils dilate.
  • Tongue slightly extends.
  • Cheeks extend and are elevated.
  • Head tilts or is thrown back.
  • Blushing of the face, neck and scalp.
  • Brightening of the eyes, and tearing.
  • Lower jaw vibrates.

Laughter has been clocked exiting our lungs at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. A good belly laugh gives our respiratory system a massive workout. In his book “Laugh After Laugh: The Healing Power of Humor,” Dr. Raymond A. Moody, Jr., states that vocal exercises, of which laughter is clearly one, have been recommended by experts as a means of strengthening the lungs and of furthering the health of them. Mindful laughter and laughter therapy can provide a cardiovascular, pulmonary and muscular workout.

Emotional and mental powers

Negative stress is both physically and mentally draining and can manifest into a chronic physical illness if not identified and managed. Laughter can help you manage stress. Laughter’s pulmonary and cardiovascular workout makes the heart and lungs work faster, which in turn pumps oxygenized blood to your cells faster, thus stimulating your brain to make you more resilient to stressors.

Laughter is free, natural and you can access it easily. You don’t even need to find something funny or be feeling happy to practice laughter and benefit from it. Don't let emotional tension build up and rob your laughter. Steve Wilson, author of the book “Good Hearted Living,” states that heavy attitudes can get in the way of the “lightness” in our lives, so we don’t laugh as much as we need to. Some of those attitudes are:

  • Judgmentalism.
  • Rigidity.
  • Being unappreciative.
  • Mean-spiritedness.
  • Anger.
  • Racing and hurrying.
  • Workaholism.

Laughter education

Laughter education comes in a wide variety of forms. The most beneficial laughter education has systematic activities, provided in a group setting that provides laughter exercise and attitudinal mindfulness to achieve general or targeted goals. Steve Wilson supports this in his book by providing daily mindful actions that if practiced can help build upon positivity. The practices mentioned in "Good-Hearted Living" are:

  • Mondays are for compliments.
  • Tuesdays are for flexibility.
  • Wednesdays are for gratitude.
  • Thursdays are for kindness.
  • Fridays are for forgiving.
  • Weekends are for rest, recreation and restoration.

Depending on the setting, individual participation in laughter educational programs can be encouraged to meet individual goals such as socialization, emotional expression, communication, improved focus, pain reduction and exercise. Michigan State University Extension provides a Mindful Laughter workshop that is part of the Stress Less with Mindfulness series; learn more on our Mindfulness for Better Living website.

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