Ask the Expert Q & A: Laughter as Medicine
Q: As my wife and I get older, we joke about having “senior moments” when we can’t remember where we put something or the name of a friend at church. More recently, I had a medical procedure that required me to be homebound for several weeks, and I started to really get down in the dumps. My wife started playing old episodes of I Love Lucy and it really helped me get through the day. I was surprised at how much better I felt. Is there any medical research about a good laugh helping someone heal?
A: There is actually quite a bit of research surrounding the use of humor as a coping mechanism as people navigate the many challenges life can bring. Often as a person ages, they face change and loss that feels beyond their control and it can cause that “down in the dumps” feeling you talked about. The truth is we are all aging from birth and as we face the ups and downs of life, a good laugh can be the best medicine.
Humor is all around us, but at times we may not see it. Seeking out ways to laugh can be very beneficial, even when we have to create those opportunities. The old sitcoms are a great go-to resource, so your wife was spot on in her strategy to help you through a tough situation. Just think of all the classic comedies and sitcoms that are now readily available through cable, satellite and the internet. YouTube is also great for looking up old comedy skits, like Carole Burnett and Tim Conway.
Humor and subsequent laughter have many therapeutic effects on the body. Most of us don’t take humor seriously enough. There are few activities that are as mentally demanding and intellectually stimulating as laughter. It can help you develop perspective in a situation and break up a tense moment. Having a good sense of humor can keep you stay mentally fit while adding fun and enjoyment to your life.
We know that laughter relaxes the whole body; a good hardy laugh will relieve physical tension and stress. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins to promote an overall sense of well-being. It often releases pent-up feelings of anger & frustration. An optimistic outlook can significantly improve the way you approach life. There are physical benefits too. Research has shown that laughter can help protect the heart by improving the function of blood vessels and blood flow. It boosts the immune system by decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. Some people report reduced pain and lower blood pressure, so maybe a laugh a day can help keep the doctor away.
There can also be social benefits. Laughter is contagious! It tends to draw others to us and strengthens relationships. It can help defuse conflict and promote positive bonding and connections. People have a tendency to feel less lonely and more united when they can share a laugh with someone else. It can be family, friends, social or support groups. People need people, sharing a laugh is a great bond.
So yes, a good laugh really can help us heal in many ways. Seek out ways to add laughter to your life. Laugh at yourself, share embarrassing moments. Look for the humor in situations rather than bemoan them. Surround yourself with funny quotes, pictures, people, television shows to help keep things in perspective. Deal with your stress, as stress is a major impediment to humor and laughter. Lastly, pay attention to children and emulate them, they are experts on playing and laughing and can often brighten even the lousiest day!