LAUGHING FOR LIFE
A Laugh Alive Report into the Benefits of Laughter in our Daily Lives
By Amanda Bate
Copyright: Amanda Bate, Laugh Alive. April 2005
LAUGHTER… IT’S ON EVERYONE’S LIPS
Laughter therapy is the latest stress-busting, health-enhancing trend to take the wellbeing world by storm. According to new research by Ocean Village holidays, we’ve never needed it more - 16 million of us fail to enjoy a proper belly laugh even just once a day and the amount we laugh on a daily basis is a staggering three times lower than it was in the 1950s.
These days, we spend so much of our time glued to the television for ‘entertainment’ and waiting for others to make us laugh when we can create laughter ourselves with simple, fun and easy exercises…after all, laughter is on everyone’s lips.
There are numerous workshops and laughter exercises and techniques that can help us develop and maintain a positive attitude and good health. From the Laughter Gym (incorporating Laughter Yoga, creative laughter exercises etc.), to comedy and improvisation, to clowning, Laughter-obics and much more. In Laughter Yoga for example, a series of simulated and stimulated laughter exercises (faking laughter to make laughter) are experienced in order to tap into natural laughter. Whether you feel like laughing or not, with just a little effort you can experience the benefits that laughter has to offer your mind, body and soul. Fundamentally, you do not have to be happy to laugh… you can laugh to be happy.
Laughter activities, sessions and workshops are taking place all over the country, creating and encouraging free laughter, freedom of expression and greater confidence... relaxing, releasing and re-energising the nation. Sometimes we realise there is not as much laughter in our lives as we’d like. In fact, some of us may actually need to be re-introduced to the basics and intricacies of laughter. When used in a sustained and directional way, laughter can heal on many levels and can truly reach the parts that many other exercises or therapies cannot reach. Tapping into the benefits of laughter in a purposeful way can have untold impact on our health, on our happiness and in our day-to-day lives.
LAUGHTER FOR HEALTH AND FITNESS - 100 chuckles a day keep the doctor away
Laughter is a serious matter! Being able to laugh at yourself and with others is a core ingredient to a healthy life.
Researchers estimate that laughing 100 times daily is equal to a 10-minute workout on a rowing machine. You could call a good laugh, ‘internal jogging’, as it gives the internal organs a dynamic and total body workout. As with aerobic exercise, laughter decreases blood pressure and increases the vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood. Laughter also gives your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles a workout. The reason we can often feel exhausted after a long bout of laughter is because we’ve just had an aerobic and isometric workout!
Researchers have also found that laughter reduces levels of certain stress hormones which suppress the immune system, increase the number of blood platelets - which can cause obstructions in arteries, and raise blood pressure. When we’re laughing, natural killer cells that destroy cancer cells increase, as does the level of Gamma-interferon - a disease-fighting protein, T-cells - a major part of the immune system, and B-cells - which make disease-destroying antibodies. Laughter may also increase the concentration of salivary immunoglobulin A, which defends against infectious organisms entering through the respiratory tract so it helps us to resist colds and viruses. Increasingly mental health professionals are suggesting "laughter as therapy," as it teaches a person how to cope in difficult situations by using humour. Following the lead of real-life funny-doc Patch Adams (portrayed by Robin Williams in a movie by the same name), doctors and psychiatrists are becoming widely aware of the therapeutic benefits of laughter. Humour, clowning and laughter are starting to form an important part of patient/hospital care. Laughter can increase lung capacity when used specifically with breathing techniques and can go deep into every corner of the body, releasing on many levels.
Researchers have also found that laughter reduces levels of certain stress hormones which suppress the immune system, increase the number of blood platelets - which can cause obstructions in arteries, and raise blood pressure. When we’re laughing, natural killer cells that destroy cancer cells increase, as does the level of Gamma-interferon - a disease-fighting protein, T-cells - a major part of the immune system, and B-cells - which make disease-destroying antibodies. Laughter may also increase the concentration of salivary immunoglobulin A, which defends against infectious organisms entering through the respiratory tract so it helps us to resist colds and viruses.
Increasingly mental health professionals are suggesting "laughter as therapy," as it teaches a person how to cope in difficult situations by using humour. Following the lead of real-life funny-doc Patch Adams (portrayed by Robin Williams in a movie by the same name), doctors and psychiatrists are becoming widely aware of the therapeutic benefits of laughter. Humour, clowning and laughter are starting to form an important part of patient/hospital care.
Laughter can increase lung capacity when used specifically with breathing techniques and can go deep into every corner of the body, releasing on many levels.
Here in a nutshell are some of the therapeutic and creative benefits of laughter:
PUTTING LIFE BACK INTO LAUGHTER – Where did we go wrong?
If we believe the statement, ‘laughter is the best medicine’ then we should all be doing it more! If we believe there is evidence to suggest that laughter can improve health and help fight disease we are instantly all converts, right? Sadly… wrong.
Research shows us that we are more serious now than we were 20 years ago and in fact over 55% of the 55+ age group say that they never have a proper belly laugh! It is said that babies can laugh up to 400 times a day and that as adults we laugh an average of 14! So what has happened to all those laughs?
As infants and children we use laughter as a way of exploring our fascinating new environment. Everything is new and different and much of what we see and hear seems ridiculous and surprising, which often strikes us as funny. As we grow older we become more familiar with our environments, more responsible at school age and then our hormones kick in. The pre-teen and teenage years are almost universally awkward and we are constantly aware of how we are seen by our peers.
As we mature, our bodies and outlook grow and change. Since there is a certain amount of intelligence involved in "getting" a joke, our sense of humour becomes more sophisticated. By the time we are adults, we have experienced much of life, including tragedy and success. In keeping with these experiences, our sense of humour becomes more mature. We laugh at other people and ourselves in shared common predicaments such as rising house costs and relationships.
As adults we have lost our childlike wonder and sense of fun, and we often see life as serious. We get caught up in economic, political and social issues and are led by our culture or community. We feel we need to be accepted by our peers and so adapt our personalities to fit in with them. We are afraid to look through the eyes of a child and can find it difficult to laugh.
Depression, stress and insecurity are major factors that can strip us of laughter. Many of us do not see much to laugh about in our lives and we may have experienced trauma or lack of love and joy. Our high-pressured society does not lend itself easily to supporting laughter and humour. By joining laughter clubs, experiencing laughter and comedy sessions and inducing laughing by ourselves, we can overcome our boundaries to laughing more freely.
ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND? Why and what do we laugh about?
Laughter can help us to experience a different side to ourselves. It balances activities in the left and right hand side of the brain encouraging clarity and creativity.
We each have our distinctive laughs like we have our own fingerprints and signatures. Laughter has no rules and the way we laugh or don’t laugh and what we laugh at can tell us a huge amount about who we are. Ocean Village’s research found that three quarters (74%) of us prefer time-honoured jokes and puns delivered in observational, slapstick and satirical routines over bawdy gags and dry put-downs, but what we find funny is very subjective.
So is it possible to define what makes us laugh? Below are a number of theories:
The incongruity theory suggests that humour arises when logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don’t normally go together. Or when our brain expects one outcome and another takes place.
The superiority theory comes into play when we laugh at jokes that focus on someone else’s mistakes, stupidity or misfortune. We feel superior, experience a certain detachment from the situation and so are able to laugh at it.
The relief theory – laughter is the best tool to lighten an atmosphere in a tense, stressful or embarrassing situation and is artfully employed by Hollywood. In action films or thrillers where tension is high, the use of comic relief at just the right time enables the viewer to relieve himself of pent up emotion!
We also use laughter to cover up our nervousness, fear or anger and to relieve many other emotions. Research has shown 50% of us laugh nervously at least once per day. Of course then there is contagious laughter which tickles our funny bones when we hear others laughing. This can grow into hysterical giggling for apparently no reason.
Laughing at someone, most would agree, is a form of unhealthy humour because we can feel resentful at being embarrassed and humiliated. When humour is used in such a way that feelings of hostility, distress and general negativity are aroused, it is called caustic humour (e.g. putting someone down or excluding them). Research has shown this is one of our least favourite forms of humour.
In contrast to caustic humour, there is compassionate humour. This helps to bridge gaps between people, break tension, provide hope and increase positivity in a situation. It is this type of humour and subsequent laughter that is accepting, healing, and beneficial to our health.
A LAUGH IN THE SUN and STRESS FREE LIVING
We experience laughter more openly when we are on holiday because we are usually free of the constraints of daily life and the stresses that go with it. Laughter encourages us to relax and triggers us straight into that holiday mood, rapidly breaking down the tensions that we often carry with us. Sunshine too lightens our mood and encourages us to expand and grow. 73% of couples say that they are less inhibited when they are in the sun.
Laughter acts like social glue bonding people together from all walks of life and age groups. After all, a smile is the shortest distance between two people… and in my book, holidays and laughter are not a luxury, they are both a necessity, giving us the perspective and freedom we need to reveal and to experience who we truly are.
LAUGHTER IN THE BORED-ROOM! Is laughter a serious business?
Epidemics of stress in the work place have been blamed for nearly doubling absenteeism from 18 million days in 1995 to an average now of 33 million days. Depression and anxiety are now the most common reasons for people starting to claim long-term sickness benefits. Laughter is the flip side of stress… increasing endorphins and lowering stress levels. Laughter and humour are the basis for building a supportive, relaxed and responsive relationship between work colleagues and managers alike…all the more reason to encourage laughter and humour in the workplace.
Ocean Village’s findings show that 88% of us think it’s very important to have a laugh at work but just 46% of us regularly do so. Almost two thirds of us (60%) stifle their laughs at work because it seems inappropriate. However, it’s natural to laugh and it takes far more energy and attention to keep the chuckles down than to let them out. This is a huge reason why laughter is so important in our work. The more you stifle the more you feel suppressed… the more you want to escape. If laughter were encouraged freely, then more energy could be put into our work and not into holding down our sense of fun and in turn, our individual personalities.
Laughter puts people in good moods so they tackle problem solving more effectively. Laughter is a powerful team building tool breaking down barriers and placing everyone on an equal footing. Relaxed supportive managers create happy staff that feel valued and respond with loyalty. As we know, a sense of humour goes a long way and is a major component of staff retention.
LAUGHTER IN THE BEDROOM - The Importance of Laughter in Relationships
Laughter is a key part of attraction – Ocean Village found that 82% of women are more attracted to people who laugh a lot. Laughter can also help us cope with negative behavioural patterns that we have learnt throughout our lives that are often re-created in our relationships. If you are trying to impress a member of the opposite sex, how you laugh could play an important role in whether you are successful, according to Vanderbilt University research in the USA.
Researchers recorded the laugh sounds of about 120 undergraduate students in different social pairings while they watched humorous scenes from films. They discovered that laughter is one of a package of subtle yet effective tools - like physical proximity and eye contact - that people use, albeit unconsciously, to shape the emotional and behavioural responses of others.
For example, researchers found that individual women produced laughs with markedly high and variable pitch when in the company of a male stranger. So it appears a woman can control the emotional stance of a male towards her by using laughter to shape his arousal and emotion-related response systems.
Men’s laughter is linked to their relationship history with their social partner. When watching the movie scenes, men paired with friends of either sex laughed significantly more than men tested alone or when paired with a male or female stranger.
Female laughter appeared to be linked to the sex of their social partner. Females paired with a male friend produced more laughs than females tested alone, with a female friend or with a male stranger. This may suggest that women laugh more if we are attracted to the person we are with.
A LAUGH IS NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS… IT’S FOR LIFE!
So how can we stock up and keep the laughing engine running throughout our lives? Here are some tips to boost your laughter count each day: