The poet, E. E. Cummings said, "The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." So, what is it that makes you laugh? Or are you finding it hard to laugh these days?
A lot of people are feeling down right now, and laughter hasn't been a big part of their life recently. Much of that is reflective of what is in the news...devastating events, like hurricanes, floods, fires, wars, and a pandemic...along with angry polarization politically and overt bullying on social media that has ramped up over the past few years. Record numbers of people are now seeking counseling. Many therapists I know have full calendars, only occasionally accept new referrals, and have a "waiting list." I've had people contact me for an appointment who have said they've spent hours trying to find a counselor with an opening in their schedule. The amount of angst out there is a big part of what has prompted me to start writing these blogs about ways of increasing your level of happiness.
Considering all that, encouraging people to "laugh everyday," sounds pretty simplistic and trite, except it's not. We receive some amazing health benefits from laughter. Laughing can make us feel better mentally and emotionally by decreasing the stress hormone, Cortisol, and by increasing Endorphins, which are the "feel good" hormones, and which can help reduce anxiety, depression, and anger. Physically, laughter can lower blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, and help with pain tolerance.
Back in 1964, Norman Cousins, a writer and editor was diagnosed with an illness that caused a lot of pain, and from which he was told he had one chance in five hundred of recovering. What was being done medically wasn't helping him, and in fact, he thought it was harming him. He believed that one's emotions played an important role in fighting disease, so he decided to take charge of his to see if he could strengthen his immune system and increase his pain tolerance. He decided to boost what he took in nutritionally and to incorporate "laughter therapy." Every day he watched funny movies and TV shows, like the old "Candid Camera," in an attempt improve his chances at life, to feel less uncomfortable, and to be able to get some sleep. Surprisingly, that is what happened. He slowly began to see positive results, and he wrote about his experiment in his best-selling book, Anatomy of An Illness As Perceived By The Patient. He died 26 years later, but his work influenced a movement within the medical field to incorporate laughter as part of a treatment plan for greater health.
Since laughter is so beneficial, when is the last time something brought a smile to your face and you found yourself chuckling? Or when was the last time you had one of those great big, knee-slapping, side-splitting, eyes-watering, can-hardly-get-your-breath kind of laughs? What was it that made you laugh like that? I confess...when I start watching those "funny animal" videos on YouTube, in a short time, I'm laughing like that, and I always feel better, more relaxed, more satisfied afterwards.
So even with all the negativity out there, when I think about the benefits of laughter, I've decided I want to laugh more! Here are some things I'm going to do, and I wondering if you would like to join me?
1. Since I've already turned in my ballot for the November mid-term election, I've decided to take a brief vacation from listening to the news. Sometimes it helps me re-activate the happiness circuits in my brain by not paying attention to what is going on in the world and all the opinions about that in the news and social media. Is there something you would benefit from taking a break from, as a way of not continually re-activating neural networks associated with stress and unhappiness?
2. I'm intentionally looking for things that make me laugh, and I've started noticing things I would've missed before. For example, living in Arizona, it's often hot in October and it still feels like summer. Seeing summer-time items, like grills and patio chairs outside a home store is normal at this time of year. However, having lived for 40 years in the Chicago area where it's usually getting cold in October and you are more likely to see things like, snow blowers, out in front of some stores, it seemed ironic to me recently to see scented pinecones and Christmas decorations right next to the grills and patio chairs. That made me laugh. This week, what will you notice that is funny that you might not have noticed before?
3. I want to hang out with more people who like to laugh! Who do you know who enjoys laughing that you might hang out with soon?
4. We can also cultivate more laughter in our lives. I'm reminding myself that laughter is good medicine, and so I'm planning on laughing more by watching at least one funny video on YouTube everyday. Some people watch funny movies and some collect jokes. What could you do to cultivate more laughter in your life?
5. I'm also remembering times in my life when laughter with friends and family was abundant, and I'm recalling those memories in as much detail as I can regarding what I remember seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling kinesthetically and emotionally. That activates neural pathways already developed around fun, humor, and laughing. What memories do you have of times when you laughed and enjoyed having fun with friends or family?
Any laughter, if it isn't making fun of someone or putting someone down, is beneficial. While it won't solve any problems you are dealing with, it can help you feel more grounded, relaxed, and happier as you seek to solve those problems.