“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
By Lana Turnbull
For anyone who grew up with Reader’s Digest around the house, the popular section in each issue, “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” will sound familiar. It was always the first feature my dad and I turned to in each new issue and we would laugh together (or I would giggle and he would chuckle) to the simple, but globally funny jokes and jibes. We didn’t think of our time with Reader’s Digest as humor therapy, but it turns out, that’s exactly what it was.
Humor is increasingly used in a variety of therapeutic situations. With the benefits of a good “belly laugh” identified not only anecdotally but also by empirical research. Have you ever noticed how relaxed and good you feel after laughing at a funny movie, TV show, or humorous event? It seems generally accepted that our bodies respond in a positive way to a hearty laugh. Articles in the popular media and medical journals frequently report that laughter, like exercise, can reduce stress, improve tolerance to pain, and alter bodily functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, muscle activity, and stomach acidity.
Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert. When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy.
Want to hear something funny? Just kidding, I couldn’t resist. It is said that children laugh approximately 400 times a day, while adults laugh only 15 times daily. The older we get the more responsibilities we have and the more stress we feel. Things that were funny when we were kids don’t seem that funny anymore. But it’s OK to laugh. A good laugh will work the abdominal muscles, massage your internal organs, improve the blood supply to the intestines and help the bowels move properly. All of which, when you think about it is pretty funny, too. So next time you are feeling stressed, try something positive, like an old-fashioned belly laugh or giggle session.
If summoning a fit of laughter doesn’t come naturally for you, get your kids in on the act. Are you ticklish? Even the sourest sourpuss will find it hard to suppress a giggle after a few well-placed tickles from an obliging six year old. But caution, laughter can be infectious. Before you know it, the epidemic could spread throughout your household and I understand there is no known cure. If you are lucky it might turn into a life-long family condition.
More than just a respite from sadness and pain, laughter gives you the courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope. Even in the most difficult of times, a laugh – or even simply a smile – can go a long way toward making you feel better.
Reader’s Digest had the right idea all along. Laughter really is the best medicine.
Sources: The International Child and Youth Care Network; Helpguide.org