If there’s one thing I have to admit about my mother is that she was always right about this: Laughter Is The Best Medicine.
If you can’t laugh about yourself and the things that happen to you – you’re headed for a heart attack or some other malady, it’s the way the body works. Laughter lightens the moment and strips away the seriousness that many of us approach life with; it releases the pain and chases away your personal rainstorms leaving a bright sunshiny day.
Scientists have also discovered that laughter strengthens your immune system and increases your cardiovascular flexibility (your blood vessels exercise through dilation).
According to Dr. Goodheart, the laughter doctor, laughter convulses your diaphragm, which in turn massages your internal organs. Massaged internal organs are happy internal organs and they cooperate by staying plump and juicy.
She says that laughter also causes you to gulp in large portions of air, oxygenating your blood. When that air is expelled, it’s been clocked at 70 miles an hour, providing the lungs with an excellent workout. By laughing, she says, you lose muscle control, which relaxes the skeletal system. According to Dr. Goodheart, four-year-olds laugh 500 times a day, while adults laugh a mere 15! She’s convinced that if we laugh as much as a four-year old, we’ve have the heart rate and blood pressure of that same child.
On top of all that, she continues, laughter causes the brain to produce hormones called beta endorphins which reduce pain and causes our adrenal glands to manufacture cortisol, which is a natural anti-inflammatory that’s wonderful for arthritis.
Laughter also provides a catharsis, which means to purify or purge, to the emotions. It also brings about a spiritual renewal or release from tension. You notice how sometimes you’ll see a comedian on television, and while he may not be that funny, something just makes you laugh uproariously? Your body seems to know that it needs the chemicals that are released through laughter.
I’ve always felt better after a good belly laugh or two. For me that means some very large-sounding snorts and a few donkey brays thrown into the bargain. Some people won’t even go to the movie with me because when I start laughing I cannot stop. My daughters always used to go, Mom! as they slunk down into their seats trying not to be seen.
When someone’s laughing, others laugh along. It’s contagious. You can’t help it. Oftentimes in my movie-theater laughter excursions, I have motivated a whole theater-full of people laughing right along with me. All this during the credits! (John Belushi being escorted through the prison in the opening credit scenes of The Blues Brothers. If you notice very carefully, while walking he has his butt cheeks pressed ever so tightly together as he’s leaving the prison. It was a subtle physical comment that kept me laughing. The more people turned and looked at me, the harder I laughed! Finally, they just gave up and joined me!).
The Difference between Laughter, Humor, Teasing and Tickling
However, there is a difference between laughter, humor, teasing or tickling. Humor is your way of looking at the world, it’s an intellectual exercise. It’s your idea of what’s funny; it’s not the actual act of laughing.
Teasing and tickling are really a way of ridiculing someone. Tickling is something beyond someone’s control and is actually a physical invasion of sorts. Children laugh when you tickle them because the body works that way, but it’s actually a form of emotional ridicule that can result in very unpleasant feelings.
Teasing usually has an edge to it. People say they’re teasing, but essentially they are dead serious. I think teasing is a passive-aggressive way of hurting someone through the guise of humor. Teasing, according to Dr. Goodheart, “involves our having information about something that another person has very strong feelings about – usually painful feelings – and then bringing that information up without permission.” She also says that as people become very good friends they might give each other permission unconsciously to push each other’s buttons. Husbands, wives, lovers, and friends play with each other’s pain with permission. “When you tease without permission in order to trigger laughter, it’s very manipulative and controlling.”
All in all, when you’re feeling down and need a lift, try laughter. It may be hard at first, but just try laughing. Force yourself. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself laughing at your own laughter and the looks you get from your family members. They’ll begin to wonder what’s so funny and the corners of their mouths will crinkle up in the beginning of a smile. Now you’re laughing because they give you these quizzical looks wondering what you’re laughing about.
Pretty soon, your laugh is real, your belly aches, the tears flow from your eyes, and the world takes on a different hue.
As for me when I laugh like this, I need Depends. I laugh so hard sometimes I wet my pants and that has nothing to do with my age.
I can still hear my friend’s mom yelling at me today nearly 38 years later (while grinning ear to ear) to get off her brocade couch whenever I started laughing.
She knew what would happen.