In times of crisis or struggle laughter is healing. Life is serious but it needn’t be solemn. Humans are the only creatures who can laugh at themselves. We have the ability to stand outside of our selves and see humor in the midst of pain. Laughter helps us bear our pain and our problems. We don’t laugh because we’re happy. We’re happy because we laugh. Laughter eases stress and enables us to keep things in perspective. When we laugh we release emotions just as we do when we cry. Laughter is cathartic. Laughter is healing.
How is laughter healing? Laughing benefits our cardiovascular system by increasing the oxygen in our blood stream. Laughter exercises our lungs and the muscles used in breathing. It stimulates our organs. Studies at Stanford University show that laughter causes an increase in dopamine, an important brain chemical. Dr. Paul Pearsall in his book Super Immunity cites evidence that laughter enhances our immune system.
We Forget How to Laugh and Play
Research on infants showed that babies smile when one month old. At 9 weeks they begin to chuckle. From 4-6 months of age they learn to giggle. At 10 months they laugh at visual things that are funny. At 12 months of age babies can initiate fun games such as peek-a-boo. Research has also shown that the average 4 year old laughs every four minutes during his waking day! Unfortunately, in the process of growing up and becoming “civilized” we lose our ability to laugh. We forget how to play.
When we laugh and play we have more energy, are more creative and more flexible. Our problems seem less overwhelming. In our culture play has been thought of as frivolous or a waste of time. But play renews us, preparing us for work. Years ago, Norman Cousins, former editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, used laughter to overcome pain. When he was ill with a disease of the connective tissues he discovered that watching funny movies and TV shows allowed him to be pain free for several hours afterwards. Laughter heals.
If you don’t laugh very often, study someone who does and imitate that person. Learn to find humor in the events of each day and use humor to lighten your life and your relationships. Notice what makes you laugh. Perhaps you have a favorite comic strip. Clip it out and post it to prolong your laughter. Also look for books, TV programs or movies that make you laugh. We can cry also, but laughter also is healing.
This article was originally published in my Faith Notes blog.