Is laughter the best medicine?

Well, let’s see. Have you ever laughed so hard and say to yourself or to someone “That was a good laugh!”? I definitely have and would love to be laughing like that all the time. Based on my personal experiences with laughter, I would say, it is the best medicine for me and I truly doubt that there is anyone out there who hated laughing. Unquestionably, laughter has tremendous positive physical, emotional, mental and social benefits for all of us.

The act of laughing stimulates hormones called catecholamine, which in turn release endorphins that produce a feeling of wellbeing. With endorphins surging through our bloodstream, we’re more likely to feel happy and relaxed. With each laugh, therefore, we’re relieving stress, reducing anxiety and increasing our stores of personal energy. All of these psychological and physiological results are wonderful tools in coping with illness, a hospital stay or even just a cranky coworker.

Benefits of laughter

Here are some interesting effects of laughter that researchers found for us:

Blood flow. At the University of Maryland, researchers found that groups that watched humorous films experienced an increase in blood flow compared to groups that watched downers.

Immune response. Increased stress is associated with decreased immune system response, so by having a good laugh, we can reduce the stress levels leading to increased immune systems.

Blood sugar levels. One study of 19 people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. After eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture.

Relaxation and sleep. The focus on the benefits of laughter really began with Norman Cousin’s memoir, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins, who was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful spine condition, found that a diet of comedies, like Marx Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera, helped him feel better. He said that ten minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.

Reducing pain. A study conducted at UCLA found that watching funny shows increased children’s tolerance for pain, which could be helpful when tiny patients have to undergo big procedures.

Positive mental health. The researchers believe that laughter can help fight negative thoughts in the brain, and with an increase of positive emotions, people begin to see a way out of their misery. Free from the shackles of negativity, people begin to see how to form a plan of attack to deal with the given situation.

Weight Loss. Yes, you are seeing this right; laughter appears to burn calories, too. Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories expended in laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories. What a great way to work out!

We can’t say for sure whether laughter is the best medicine but we can say it does a pretty good job of improving our mental and physical health. Mark Twain wrote – “The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that’s laughter. The moment it arises, all our hardness yield, all irritations and resentment slips away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.”

Thinn Aung is a counsellor with the Employee Assistance Programme of the Cayman Islands. For more information about the programme, please call 949-9559 or e-mail us at [email protected]