Thursday, January 08, 2009

Laughter, the Best Medicine?

I recently read an interesting article on happiness. It seems that researchers have devoted a fair amount of time and money to this subject. So what did they find? Well, pretty obvious stuff. We don't get there by working like a dog or spending a ton of money. But the answer really has been there all along. It's wisdom that we've probably heard numerous times throughout our lifetime...things like: look on the bright side, laughter is the best medicine, smile and the world smiles with you. In terms of what we should do: smile, laugh, sing, dance, spend time with friends, family and children, make time for fun, exercise, get sunshine, get involved in the community, celebrate. All these things elevate our mood and strengthen our immune system. They also possibly lengthen our lives.

In terms of the pursuit of happiness? Scientific research indicates that we should actually be pursuing joy over happiness. So many of us are looking for that "magic bullet" that will make us happy. The thing is, how do we measure happiness? It's a rather vague concept. Joy, on the other hand, is quite quantifiable.

MRI scanners have tremendously increased our understanding of the functioning of the brain. And one of the amazing things that scientists have discovered is how much of the brain is dedicated to positive emotion, or rather joy.

Joy is easily measured by looking at hormone changes, endorphin levels, blood oxygen and watching human connections. Joy, experienced through all those things mentioned previously (singing, dancing, laughing, smiling) rewards its users with health, improved immunity and many times a sense of purpose.

Other things we should be aware of? Having fun is good for you! It's a powerful de-stressor. Stress is a major factor in most illnesses and diseases, in fact, I once heard one figure that claimed as much as 90%. How do we have fun? Any child can easily tell you the answer to that one...play. With play comes laughter, bonding, smiling and humour. All good.

According to Chinese medicine, worry sits in the stomach. Perhaps that's why when we're stressed or worried we say that we have knots in our stomach. The remedy for this? Singing. Seriously, I had a Chinese doctor who explained that worry can go so far as to physically affect us with a prolapsed stomach and the remedy is to sing. I even had this proven to me, which I couldn't possibly properly explain here. Let's just say that it's something you have to experience. But if you know what's good for you, you will now all immediately break out into song. Well, at least hum a tune.

Laughter is next on the list. It is so important. In fact, it might just be the secret fountain of youth. Don't people who really truly laugh a lot seem more youthful? Nothing makes us look older than we are than a sour face. And even better, laughter is contagious. Think back to a time where you just couldn't quit laughing. Probably you weren't alone. Perhaps when you would just about have it under control, you would glance over at that other person and just lose it. The cycle would start all over again, laughter bouncing off the walls, tears in your eyes and your sides aching from so much giddiness. Do you remember how good that felt? It's something that we should all make an effort to do more often.

The next thing that science is starting to confirm that will make you all want to immediately "lighten up," is that seriousness is a manifestation of permanent stress. Seriousness is signalled by the promotion of stress, lack of sense of humour and a resentment of fun. Now who wants to be that guy? Some cardiologists even believe that a serious attitude leads to heart disease and science is now coming very close to proving this. The reality is that seriousness mimics a stress reaction. It causes blood vessels to tighten and raised levels of cortisol can be measured in the bloodstream. Is it possible that seriousness might be a low level form of permanent stress?

Finally, the last thing that we should be making an effort to do, is to act happy. You know, fake it 'til you make it. It's long been established that thinking positive thoughts can change our perspective on the world. New research suggests that meditation, and a positive outlook can fight depression and elevate mood. Other research has shown that the mere act of smiling, even if we don't initially feel happy, actually triggers changes in our brain chemistry that boost those hormones that do make us feel happy. It's kind of like going through the motions until we authentically feel it. Yes, indeed, we can actually practice being happy and in the process become much better at it.

35 comments:

we're doomed said...

Great advice, Carla. It's always better to laugh and sing, than cry.

JBelle said...

It's so much easier to focus on what's wrong rather than what's right. 'Call it all joy' has long been my mantra and undoubtedly is one of the most valuable things in my life. When I was working on a complicated, detailed highly worrisome law suit, I started going to noon mass everyday. It was so good for me on a number of levels but I id'd early on that singing brought an incredible dimension to my day and my work. Singing! It IS highly therapeutic.

I like Chinese medicine's take: worry sits on the stomach. Simple, obvious, profound.

Annie Wicking said...

I'm all for happiness being give out on the national health service in this country, maybe they could build happy hospital instead

Oh what fun we could have with more happy people instead of sick people.

Great posting, Carla

Carla said...

We're Doomed, Well, it's certainly something that I would prefer to be doing.

JBelle, Very true. We spend far too much time focusing on what needs to be fixed then appreciating all the wondrous things around us. I find that singing brightens my day too. I know this little boy who sings constantly, and I tell you, he has one of the happiest souls I have ever met. A living lesson to us all.

Carla said...

Annie, I'm sure focusing on "happy" would help numerous people get better faster and feel good about it. Happy hospitals would be a great idea.

Rowena said...

Very good post to reflect on in the new year Carla! I've always thought that laughter was the best medicine but apparently some people simply don't get it. It's a bit of a pisser when a person (usually a friend or family member) asks why I'm so "up" all the time. It's like asking if I'm high on drugs or something and it bugs me to think that feeling good is frowned upon by others. Grinches.

Happy New Year Carla, and thank you much for the egreeting. Now I go to dance the tango with my imaginary partner. I'm stuck on that song Asì se baila el tango!

Aaoiue said...

Thank you, Carla, I'll keep your words in my lips.

Carla said...

Rowena, I wouldn't worry about those "wet blankets" too much. They're probably just jealous they don't have the same joy and happiness that you do. And you'll probably outlive all of them. Enjoy the tango.

Aaoiue, I hope the world brings you much laughter and happiness. Enjoy your weekend.

sirdar said...

Great post. Definitely one I can relate to. I had someone at work, who I will call a mentor, bring me out of some 'thinking' that was not conducive to a healthy attitude. Pessimism, negativity, worry...things like that. It took a while but I don't have a lot of the same issues that I had. I still have the odd bad hour or so, but I can now pull myself out if it and feel that I am much better for it. Attitude about things are to me really the key. A person chooses how they feel or how someone made them feel. I choose to not let things get to me. I am now mentoring someone at work for similar things. Its been 5 months and he has made great strides in his attitudes toward 'life'. Even others who know that I am mentoring him have mentioned it. Really liked your post!!

Carla said...

Sirdar, You are totally right that we can choose how we feel. Sometimes it may not seem like it, and we may have our setbacks, but it's good to be able to sit back and put things in perspective. It's great that you are able to mentor someone.

Katie said...

I am definitely going to start singing in the shower again! And making my self laugh :)

Jannie said...

Boy, am I happy that I'm happy! I would not make a very good old sourpuss.

Jolly. Happy-go-lucky. Laughing. Funning. It all feels so good.

And it took 10 years off my face just now, thinking all these joyous thoughts. Even my threatening migraine's lifted a bit, reading this. I'm serious.

Yay. Thank you. Thank you so much, Carla.

pandave said...

Oh and laughter is a great exercise. I have laughed until my tummy muscles hurt. And it hurts so good!

A friend of mine recently told me that she has never come across someone who sings in the shower as much as I do. Now I can get her to join in. For our health! (the singing... she can shower alone ;-))

Jannie said...

Funny, but I've actually been thinking about this post over the past couple days - and not many blogger's posts do that to me!

JUST LOVE LAUGHING. And gaiety.

Isle Dance said...

You rock. So true. Thanks for the great post. Right on...!

Lance said...

Hi Carla,
Jannie sends me your way (she's one smart cookie - AND she makes me laugh!) So, I know why she likes you - what a fun post, and great reminder about just how important joy is in our lives. I love to laugh, and the thing I'm going to try out is the singing approach (well, I might scare those around me, but so what, right?). It's great to be here!!

Carla said...

Katie, I'm glad to hear it. And welcome.

Jannie, Glad to hear the migraine is lifting. That's no laughing matter...mind you maybe if it were it would happen less often.

Carla said...

Pandave, I love those laugh 'til your tummy hurts kind of laughs. Truly the best kind...unless you've just undergone surgery. I hope you're able to enlist your friend in that singing.

Jannie, Then I hope much in life brings you laughter. It truly is healing, isn't it?

Carla said...

Isle Dance, You're most welcome. I hope it at least brought a smile to your face.

Lance, Thanks for dropping by. Glad to hear you're going to try the singing. And remember, if you scare others with your singing, it will just give you one more thing to laugh about.

Mark said...

Carla,
Great information are reinforcement. Yes, to sing and to laugh is a wonderful way to become and be happy. Another way is find someone who is down and try to cheer them up. You can't stay down when you are trying to be positive with others.

Carla said...

Mark, Thanks for your great suggestion. Yes, it is often in doing for others that we find peace and happiness for ourselves.

The Fool said...

H'lo Nomad. I'm with you...em>Sing! Laugh! Dance! Be happy!!/em> It's not only good for the individual - it's also contagious...it's good for the community. Thanks for doing your part.

Carla said...

Fool, Actually, scientific studies are even confirming that contagious part. Let us all sing and make merry.

pandave said...

Just an update. I have been paying mind to this and I noticed that the boyfriend is singing more. He is self-conscious about this because he says he can't carry a tune but lately he's been walking around the apartment singing away. And that makes me smile. It's contagious.

It's also a great excuse for my loud laugh - I'm spreading it around. Making people's lives longer and healthier!

Carla said...

Pandave, That's a great story. I hope you guys can just keep on singing and laughing.

Pamela said...

I was sooo tired last night. some friends invited us over to dinner and I dragged myself there.
Their daughter in law stopped by with her best friend.. they both have babies. I played and laughed with the babies. Felt so good when I went home!!!

Steffi said...

I agree with the first comment by We´re doomed!Great post,Carla!

Carla said...

Pamela, I'm glad you were able to leave feeling better than when you had arrived.

Steffi, Thanks. I hope you have much happiness and laughter in your life.

Dreadnought said...

I've known a few people with way more money than me yet they seem far from happy, the lady of the big house where I work now is just getting over a bout of depression so for sure I'm not looking to get rich anytime soon. Bob.

Carla said...

Bob, It certainly does seem to be true that money can't buy one happiness. I suppose money is nice, but one must find peace from within.

Matt Stevens said...

Amazing Photo

Carla said...

Matt, Welcome and thank you. I'm glad you like it.

Peter said...

A wonderful and therapeutic posting and enhanced by a beautiful photo.

Anonymous said...

Hello, my name is Guillaume, I am a laughter yoga teacher and will be coming back to live in the slocan valley this summer. I intend to start free laughter clubs all around, laughter club is a free weekly gathering where I will through physical exercises, induce natural laughter ... all are welcome, 99% of succeeding is showing up ...

Guillaume

Carla said...

Peter, I hope you have the opportunity to laugh often.

Guillaume, It sounds like a wonderful project. I am sure that there will be much success and happiness.