Laughter - the best medicine?

03 November 2011 at 13:39


Well it would seem to be official; the BBC Focus magazine highlighted the benefits of laughter in improving both physical and mental wellbeing.  It’s still a contentious issue.  For every study that comes out another advises caution, often on the grounds that the claims made cannot be validated on methodological grounds; the sample was too small or it only measured one indicator of a particular phenomenon.  I don’t believe anyone is suggesting that laughter can be a replacement for some more conventional therapies but rather it can enhance and support those approaches.  A good belly laugh is not going to be a substitute in leading a healthier lifestyle.  We still need to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day; we still need to take regular exercise (that said Laughter Yoga can help with that task); we still need to moderate our alcohol intake and of course we should eschew illicit drugs.  But laughter does make us feel better.  It gives us an increased sense of wellbeing and lightens our mood and makes things seem better than they perhaps are.  Norman Cousins in his book Anatomy of an illness believed that a good belly laugh would give him two hours of pain free sleep during his illness.

I should, I suppose at this point make a distinction, I’m really talking about the physical act of laughter, laughter as a event in the physical world rather than humour, which is a construct and based within the cognitive domain. It’s been suggested that humour and laughter effects the body and mind slightly differently.  I have, I believe a good sense of humour.  I like particular comedians, although some I find I like less now than I did 2 or 3 years ago – perhaps my tastes have changed? This, when we look at laughter through humour is an issue, my tastes may not be your tastes; we may not like the same things. But what we can do is laugh and the laughter sounds we make may be similar.  We can all force a laugh. If we allow ourselves to let go and laugh, it may sound, and indeed, feel strange but we can if we want to, laugh for no reason.  There does seem to be a growing body of research to suggest that the act of laughter can be beneficial both in mind and body. Go on, try it now.  You’re reading this at your computer, lean back and let out a belly laugh – do a big Santa HO HO HO and keep it going for a few seconds then just consider how you feel right now… What’s happened to the muscles in your face? Are you smiling or frowning? Are you intrigued or dismayed?

OK you might feel a little strange, perhaps embarrassed if people in the office or at home heard you making that noise for no reason and are now looking at you quizzically.  Many people find that the act of laughter makes them feel better and dare I say it…happier. It’s been demonstrated in Laughter Yoga groups across the world that this effect can be duplicated time and time again. The wellbeing effects is maximised through the collective shared experience.  The laughter, time and again, starts out as strained and forced with participants feeling slightly uncomfortable, but as the session goes on participants’ laughter becomes infectious and importantly, genuine.  It’s argued that laughter releases endorphins, the bodies very own ‘feel good’ hormone (some research suggests that there isn’t really the evidence to support this claim yet) but ask Laughter Yoga participants and they will tell you that during and after sessions they ‘feel’ good.  Now we can laugh on our own if we wish and still gain some benefit from that act. However, shared laughter would seem to be more beneficial. The collective feeling of wellbeing and happiness that laughter creates is contagious (contagious in a good way), it spreads through out a group and in sessions that I’ve ran, some people on the margins of the group have at the start of the session been laughing at the participants but by the end of the session they have been laughing with the rest of the group.  Perhaps this connection that laughter gives us is one of the key factors in the road to having a positive sense of wellbeing.  After all, it’s been well documented that connecting with others is a key component of the five ways to wellbeing.  So is laughter the best medicine? Well as I heard the comedian John Thompson say ‘if you’re asthmatic it’ll probably be Ventolin’ but I believe, as do thousands of folks in Laughter Yoga Clubs it can certainly help.

So give laughter a go.  Let yourself go and enjoy you only need a couple of things to benefit from Laughter Yoga a willingness to give it a go and the ability to fake laughter and as we say in Laughter Yoga circles, ‘Fake it, fake it till you make it!’

Very good, very good YEY!!

 Thanks for reading and keep laughing,

Simon and Sandra

Author: Simon and Sandra on 03 November 2011 at 13:39 Comments (0)  

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