“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” -Anonymous
Another year of being good come and gone and here you are, perhaps spent from the belly-filled laughs and the holiday sweets. During this holiday season, at least some of Santa’s qualities may have been of benefit to you- twinkling eyes, a smile stretched from ear to ear, a “ho, ho, ho!” here and there… and eating 2000 chocolate bars? Maybe not. But most likely Santa never had that many either… unless you consider its equivalent.
Welcome to the benefits (and associated benefits) of laughter.
When you laugh, as you may well might this holiday season, you are exercising virtually every muscle in your body though more avidly so your face, diaphragm, abdomen, legs, and back. Anecdotal evidence notes that in some cases laughter and humor played a significant hand in overcoming some of the most serious and striking of illnesses, including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. If this is the case, how would this have been possible?
Laughter has been touted as the most potent immune system booster that you have available to you, specifically engaging Gamma interferon and T-cells which help to protect against tumors and disease-causing agents. It also boosts your energy by inhibiting the production of stress hormones including cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine, helping to sooth and relax you, while also promoting heart health through improving the function of blood vessels, improving blood flow, and lowering blood pressure.
Furthermore, the associated benefits of laughter are extensive and can enter into many realms of everyday life. Applying these concepts can offer simple, intuitive direction:
- Live on the bright side. Optimists have been shown to live 55% longer than pessimists.
- Give a little. Laughter is highly contagious. In 1962 the country of Tanzania experienced a laughter outbreak, starting with a few young students and soon spreading to the entire community with consistent outbreaks of laughter over the span of about eighteen months. Doctors, government officials, foreign affairs officers all tried to figure out what was wrong- what was plaguing the people of Tanzania and was this a sickness of some kind? It was later deducted that the laughter was a communal response to political stress at the time.
- Smile! Heck, who needs all those holiday sweets anyway? According to a study performed by the British Dental Health Foundation, a smile gives the same level of stimulation as eating 2000 chocolate bars.
- Enjoy the moment. Laughter is the sound of joy, an emotion which results in a series of positive influences on the health of the body and mind.
- Create connections. Laughter has been deemed “the universal language”, with social benefits of demonstrating non-aggression and good will.
As Ayurvedic doctors consider the use of laughter for healing, specifically its use in laughter yoga clubs, from their classically traditional perspective, they also note that laughter can help to relieve blockages in the body and lift the mind from heaviness of a Tamasic nature. However, excess is not recommended because it can bring about imbalance of Vata nature, which is especially significant in creating illness later down the line. The key is to do what feels best for you as an individual and to remain aware of what is best for you not just for that moment but over longer periods of time as well. In any case, it seems that the vast majority of individuals would tend to be lacking in experiencing the benefits of laughter, even from an Ayurvedic perspective. Why?
As children we laugh about 300-400 times per day. As adults? Fifteen. Quality may matter just as much as quantity given that the emotions behind laughter also influence what molecules are released in your body rather than simply having a generic effect. Laughter from a sense of calm and pure joy, naturally flowing, is altogether different from a forced state or a condition of desperation, a frightened search for joy. Ultimately, laughter is only one aspect of joy. Using laughter as a gateway, individuals may be able to create for themselves an integrated, joyful approach and direction in maintaining health.
Another smile? Well, okay… maybe just one…
Wishing all the health and happiness to you and yours during this holiday season and in the New Year… Happy Holidays, everyone!