June 2021 Issue | Laughter Really Is the Best Medicine
Dr. Lynette Charity
I’ve been fired. I’ve been sued. I’ve worked 30 hours in two days. Some people might call these events obstacles, challenges, or misfortunes. I call them “material.”
For 40 years, it was my job to put people to sleep as an anesthesiologist. Nowadays, I wake them up with laughter. That’s right, ladies and gentleman, a doctor who became a stand-up comedian and keynote speaker. I get hired to speak about heavy subjects in a way that makes everyone laugh.
I do this because, as screenwriter Anthony McCarten says in his TedxTalk on Laughter, “Seriousness is dangerous.” When we take ourselves too seriously, we become a danger to ourselves and others. Humor helps us reframe inconveniences and persist through life.
Laughter won’t necessarily cure what ails you but it does boost your immune system. It also releases endorphins, burns calories, and prevents heart disease! But the biggest health benefits of good humor affect your social and mental health.
So today, I’m prescribing you a good dose of comedy.
Laughter is good for your mental health
The data is mounting in favor of both short and long-term health benefits of laughter. Short-term, laughter induces physical changes in the body. It stimulates our organs by enhancing the intake of oxygen-rich air and increasing the endorphins released by your brain.
In other words, laughter can get you “high”!
Several small studies from researchers at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California found that watching humorous videos affected levels of cortisol, dopamine and other hormones implicated in stress and mood. Among their conclusions: laughter counteracts the biochemical stress response and improves markers of physical well-being.
When you’re rolling on the floor laughing (ROTFL or ROTFLMAO), your stress response is activated and then relieved, resulting in a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure and an end result of a good, relaxed feeling. Laughter can soothe the stress out savage beast in you.
Laughter can even slow down symptoms of depression, Dr. Suhayl Nasar, a psychiatrist and medical director of Memorial Hospital’s psychiatric center, says “talk therapy does help a lot, but laughter has an interesting way of changing brain chemistry.” Other researchers who looked at the interrelationship between laughter and depression also found that laughter can efficiently counteract depressive symptoms.
A laugh a day keeps the darkness away. And there is no prescription required for this treatment. Even better. Laughter keeps you from being down and it has no downside.
Victor Borge once wrote, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.”
The best way to bring laughter into your life is to engage with other people. Recounting funny stories with your spouse, playing around with your kids or grandkids, or simply telling a friend about your day will open the opportunity for humor.
Best of all, it’s a cycle. Paying attention to your relationships helps you laugh, and laughing helps you make better relationships. Dr. John Gottman, an American psychologist and researcher, is well known for his extensive work on divorce prediction and marital stability. Dr. Gottman says “Couples who laugh together last together.’ There are numerous studies in the literature to back up his claim.
Laughter, similar to singing and dancing, brings us closer together. It’s a major way we bond with other humans. Laughter can even make your sex life better by making you more attractive to potential partners!
If you don’t have someone to share these moments with, yet, have no fear. There are plenty of stand up comedy shows, comedic movies and humor podcasts on all your favorite streaming platforms. Make it a habit to turn these on regularly, even if it’s just for 5 minutes while you’re getting ready for your day.
Adding little bursts of humor to your regular routine can help reduce your stress, improve your mood by getting rid of negative self-talk, and boost your health and well-being. Laughter truly is the best medicine — and it doesn’t require a prescription!