Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The new miracle drug: laughter!

Has anyone seen my new sweater?" yelled a "6-year-old from her upstairs bedroom. "You mean the one that cost $60?" shouted her father from the living room.
"You mean the stupid one that makes you look fat?" offered her brother from his adjoining bedroom.
"You mean the one with the low neckline?" inquired Grandma from the kitchen.
"You mean the one that has to be washed by hand in cold water?" demanded Mother from the laundry room.

If you fail to see the humor in that family situation, you may have a serious problem (pun intended). Dr. William Fry refers to laughter as stationary-jogging that benefits the entire body. Actually, there is hardly a system in your body that a good laugh doesn't stimulate. Norman Cousins, the famous editor of Saturday Review, cured himself of a serious collagen illness using massive doses of vitamin C and a tremendous amount of laughter every day. More than 60 years ago the world-famous physical culturist Bernarr MacFadden proclaimed laughter as a valid exercise and wrote about his laugh cure.

Most of us suffer from information overload concerning those things that we are powerless to change. Even a collection of one-liners read on a daily basis can lift one's spirits from the pits of despair. Laugh therapy is especially effective when shared with a friend or loved one. Your laughter ignites each other's funny bone and raises your level of hilarity.
Psychologist Alice M. Isen and colleagues recruited college undergraduates for a series of studies about how mood affects creativity. Given a book of matches, a box of tacks, and a candle, the students were asked how they would affix the candle to a corkboard so that, when burning, the candle did not drip wax on the floor below. Before attempting to solve the problem, some of the students watched a comedy film of television bloopers designed to put them in a good mood. The other group watched Area Under a Curve (a math film).

The researchers found that 75 percent of the students put into a cheerful mood by the comedy film correctly solved the problem. In contrast, only 20 percent of those who watched the math film came up with the correct answer. (If you are the curious type, the solution was to empty the box and tack it to the wall to make a platform for the candle.)

Another study indicates that a good belly laugh may actually make you less sensitive to pain. Using 20-minute segments, one group listened to a Lily Tomlin tape (remember "one ring-a-dingy"?), another listened to a relaxation tape, a third heard a lecture on ethics, and the final (control) group did not listen to a tape. Using a blood pressure cuff to create pain, they found that both the relaxation and laughter groups had significantly higher pain thresholds than the others.

To determine if the laughter had merely distracted the subjects, the researchers conducted a second study in which groups either listened to a Bill Cosby tape, an Edgar Allan Poe reading, or a lecture; performed a series of multiplication tasks; or heard nothing. This time the pain threshold was measured both before and after the experiment. Only those students who listened to the comedy tape showed a significant increase in their ability to withstand pain. On average, they withstood 20 percent more pain than the other groups. The researchers point out that laughter is a naturally occurring response and might be particularly useful against short-term pain of injections or recovery from minor surgery. Perhaps we should add another category of short-term pain--final exams!

"It is possible," writes one researcher, "that laughter releases chemicals in the brain, beta-endorphins and enkephalins, which are natural painkillers. These painkillers may be as much as 100 times stronger than any morphine or opium-based drug we can take." It is interesting to me that, according to the Bible, God revealed to humankind the power of laughter thousands of years ago "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones" (Proverbs 17:22, NIV).

According to at least one expert in the field of humor, your daily laugh total should equal at least 15 chuckles a day or you are underlaughed. Unfortunately, knowing you should laugh does not guarantee you will do it. Fortunately, for those of you with an undiscovered funny bone, researchers at the University of Florida discovered that a sense of humor can be learned and cultivated.

First, keep in mind that you don't have to have a reason to laugh. In fact, when you try to explain why you are laughing, it may not seem funny anymore. Initially you may feel awkward or even embarrassed by your laughter. If necessary, lock yourself in your room and practice laughing in the mirror. Before long you will have tears rolling down your cheeks as you learn to laugh at yourself. Once you make the decision that laughter is a priority in your life, then the awkwardness or embarrassment will be easier to tolerate.

You will notice a loss of muscle control when you really begin to laugh. That's why you bend over or fall out of your chair. Your diaphragm sets up a chain reaction in your body. As the diaphragm automatically convulses, it shakes up your stomach and other vital organs. You get an internal massage or, as one researcher calls it, internal jogging. Have you ever laughed until your sides hurt? That is caused by your diaphragm pulling on your side muscles with each convulsion.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Humor, Laughter and Health


The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. Humor and laughter can cause a domino effect of joy and amusement, as well as set off a number of positive physical effects. Humor and laughter strengthen our immune systems and help us recover from illness, as well as bring joy into our lives. The question is, how do we gain access to this priceless medicine?

Health benefits of humor and laughter
"Laughter activates the chemistry of the will to live and increases our capacity to fight disease. Laughing relaxes the body and reduces problems associated with high blood pressure, strokes, arthritis, and ulcers. Some research suggests that laughter may also reduce the risk of heart disease. Historically, research has shown that distressing emotions (depression, anger, anxiety, and stress) are all related to heart disease. A study done at the University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that a good sense of humor and the ability to laugh at stressful situations helps mitigate the damaging physical effects of distressing emotions.

A good hearty laugh can help:

  • reduce stress
  • lower blood pressure
  • elevate mood
  • boost immune system
  • improve brain functioning
  • protect the heart
  • connect you to others
  • foster instant relaxation
  • make you feel good.

Laughter's Effects on the Body

Laughter lowers blood pressure.

People who laugh heartily on a regular basis have lower standing blood pressure than the average person. When people have a good laugh, initially the blood pressure increases, but then it decreases to levels below normal. Breathing then becomes deeper which sends oxygen enriched blood and nutrients throughout the body.
Humor changes our biochemical state.
Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases infection fighting antibodies. It increases our attentiveness, heart rate, and pulse.
Laughter protects the heart.
Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack, according to the study at the University of Maryland Medical Center (cited above). The study, which is the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease, found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.
Laughter gives our bodies a good workout.
Laughter can be a great workout for your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles. It massages abdominal organs, tones intestinal functioning, and strengthens the muscles that hold the abdominal organs in place. Not only does laughter give your midsection a workout, it can benefit digestion and absorption functioning as well. It is estimated that hearty laughter can burn calories equivalent to several minutes on the rowing machine or the exercise bike.
Humor improves brain function and relieves stress.
Laughter stimulates both sides of the brain to enhance learning. It eases muscle tension and psychological stress, which keeps the brain alert and allows people to retain more information

Humor improves mental and emotional health
Humor is a powerful emotional medicine that can lower stress, dissolve anger and unite families in troubled times. Mood is elevated by striving to find humor in difficult and frustrating situations. Laughing at ourselves and the situation helps reveal that small things are not the earth-shaking events they sometimes seem to be. Looking at a problem from a different perspective can make it seem less formidable and provide opportunities for greater objectivity and insight. Humor also helps us avoid loneliness by connecting with others who are attracted to genuine cheerfulness. And the good feeling that we get when we laugh can remain with us as an internal experience even after the laughter subsides.

Mental health professionals point out that humor can also teach perspective by helping patients to see reality rather than the distortion that supports their distress. Humor shifts the ways in which we think, and distress is greatly associated with the way we think. It is not situations that generate our stress, it is the meaning we place on the situations. Humor adjusts the meaning of an event so that it is not so overwhelming.

Here are some additional things we can do to improve our mood, enjoyment of life and mental health.

  • Attempt to laugh at situations rather than bemoan them – this helps improve our disposition and the disposition of those around us.
  • Use cathartic laughter to release pent-up feelings of anger and frustration in socially acceptable ways.
  • Laugh as a means of reducing tension because laughter is often followed by a state of relaxation.
  • Lower anxiety by visualizing a humorous situation to replace the view of an anxiety-producing situation

Humor helps us stay emotionally healthy
A healthy sense of humor is related to being able to laugh at oneself and one's life. Laughing at oneself can be a way of accepting and respecting oneself. Lack of a sense of humor is directly related to lower self esteem. (Note that laughing at oneself can also be unhealthy if one laughs as a way of self degradation.)

Mental Health Benefits of Laughter

  • Humor enhances our ability to affiliate or connect with others.
  • Humor helps us replace distressing emotions with pleasurable feelings. You cannot feel angry, depressed, anxious, guilty, or resentful and experience humor at the same time.
  • Lacking humor will cause one's thought processes to stagnate leading to increased distress.
  • Humor changes behavior – when we experience humor we talk more, make more eye contact with others, touch others, etc.
  • Humor increases energy, and with increased energy we may perform activities that we might otherwise avoid.
  • Finally, humor is good for mental health because it makes us feel good!

Social benefits of humor and laughter
Our work, marriage and family all need humor, celebrations, play and ritual as much as record-keeping and problem-solving. We should ask the questions "Do we laugh together?" as well as "Can we get through this hardship together?" Humor binds us together, lightens our burdens and helps us keep things in perspective. One of the things that saps our energy is the time, focus and effort we put into coping with life's problems including each other's limitations. Our families, our friends and our neighbors are not perfect and neither are our marriages, our kids or our in-laws. When we laugh together, it can bind us closer together instead of pulling us apart.

Remember that even in the most difficult of times, a laugh, or even simply a smile, can go a long way in helping us feel better

  • Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.
  • Humor unites us, especially when we laugh together.
  • Laughter heals.
  • Laughs and smiles are enjoyed best when shared with others.
  • To laugh or not to laugh is your choice.

Bringing more humor and laughter into our lives
If laughter is the best medicine, where is the pharmacy where we can fill our prescriptions?

Although healers have intuitively known for centuries that laughter and humor are beneficial for health and well-being, in our modern world we have only very recently begun to scientifically investigate the relationship.

And though we’ve begun to measure the benefits humor has on our health, we have yet to focus on the question of how to bring humor and laughter into our lives as therapy.

Nevertheless, pioneers in this new discipline are out there in their wagon trains braving the trails. We’ve collected their early findings and present them as follows.

Developing our sense of humor
Laughter is a birthright, a natural part of life. The part of the brain that connects to and facilitates laughter is among the first parts of the nervous system to come on line after birth. Infants begin smiling during the first weeks of life and laugh out loud within months of being born. Even if you did not grow up in a household where laughter was a common sound, you can learn to laugh at any stage of life.

We may begin by setting aside special times to seek out humor and laughter, as we do with working out. But eventually, we want to incorporate humor and laughter into the fabric of our lives, finding it naturally in everything we do. Here are ways to start.

  • Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter. Like laughter, it’s contagious. Pioneers in “laugh therapy,” find it’s possible to laugh without even experiencing a funny event. The same holds for smiling. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling.
  • Count your blessings. Literally make a list. The simple act of considering the good things in your life will distance you from negative thoughts that are a barrier to humor and laughter. When in a state of sadness, we have further to travel to get to humor and laughter.
  • When you hear laughter, move toward it. Sometimes humor and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but usually not. More often, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask, “What’s funny?”
  • Spend time with people who have successfully incorporated humor into their lives. These are people who naturally take life lightly, who routinely find ordinary events hysterical. Their points of view and their laughter are contagious.

Incorporating humor into everyday life
Here are two examples of people who took everyday problems and turned them around in order to bring more humor into their lives and to help solve the situation at hand, and even others unrelated to it.

Semi-retired, Roy finally had the chance to play golf seriously and often. But before long, he realized he wasn’t enjoying it nearly as much as he had hoped. Every poor shot, and all golfers hit them, was cause for remorse. But Roy wisely realized that his golfing companions affected his attitude, and he began playing only with those capable of keeping the game in perspective. Now the game was as much fun as Roy hoped it would be. He scored better without working harder. And the brighter outlook he was getting from his companions and the game spread to other parts of his life, including his work.
Jane worked at home in her apartment complex designing greeting cards. Two pre-school girls who loved to make paper dolls lived nearby. Eventually, Jane invited the girls in to play with all the art supplies she had. At first, she watched but in time she joined in. For a year, Jane and the girls played together nearly every day.
Making paper dolls and doll clothes, laughing and playing pretend with the little girls transformed Jane’s life. It sparked her imagination, helped her artwork flourish, brightened her outlook, and best of all rekindled her playful side in her relationship with her husband.

Spending time with children is one way to enhance our playfulness, add humor to our lives and help take ourselves less seriously. Not taking ourselves so seriously is an important component in adding humor to our lives.

Taking ourselves less seriously
Angels can fly because they take things lightly - Anonymous

Some events are clearly sad and not occasions for laughter. But most don’t carry an overwhelming sense of sadness or delight. Most fall into the gray zone of ordinary life, and they give us the choice to laugh or not.

One characteristic that helps us laugh is not taking ourselves too seriously. We’ve all known the classic tight-jawed sourpuss who takes everything with deathly seriousness and never laughs at anything. No fun there.

Here are some ways we can lighten up.

  • View your life in context. Even world leaders realize they have limited ability to affect others’ lives. While we might think taking the weight of the world on our shoulders is admirable, in the long run it’s unrealistic, unproductive, unhealthy and even egotistical.
  • Be less serious. Realize that while your ambitions may be noble, being overly serious about them weighs you down and lessens your chances for achieving them.
  • Deal with your stress. Stress is a major impediment to humor and laughter.
  • Dress less seriously.
  • Keep a toy on your desk or in your car.
  • Laugh at yourself. Share your embarrassing moments. The best way to take ourselves less seriously is talk about times when we took ourselves too seriously.
  • Pay attention to children and emulate them. They are the experts on playing, taking life lightly, and laughing.

Checklist for lightening up

When you find yourself taken over by what seems to be a horrible problem, ask these questions:

  • Is it really worth getting upset over?
  • Is it worth upsetting others?
  • Is it that important?
  • Is the situation irreparable?Is it really my problem?

Creating opportunities to laugh

  • Watch comedy DVD’s and TV shows. Remember classics like the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges.
  • Go to comedy clubs.
  • Listen to comedy while driving.
  • Read comic authors.
  • Seek out funny people.
  • Spend less time with overly serious people.
  • Bring humor into conversations. Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?”

Making sure your humor won’t offend
Humor can be used as a weapon to belittle others or “score points” in some fashion. Use humor with care by being mindful of the following.

  • Use humor at the expense of yourself or a group you are part of, rather than at someone’s else’s expense.
  • Don’t use humor when someone else is in so much pain that humor will not make them feel better. When someone is physically injured, suffering a serious crisis, or when you are attending a somber event, such as a funeral, humor, no matter how clever or well-intended, will not make people feel better.
  • Use humor that everyone present can enjoy. Inside jokes can make people feel excluded. Adult humor in the presence of children is unhealthy for the children, troublesome for their parents or guardians and thoughtless on the part of the would-be comedian.

Related links for humor, laughter and health

Rotary Jokes: Laughter is the Best Medicine Laughter activates the chemistry of the will to live and increases our capacity to fight disease. And the good feeling that we get when we laugh can remain with us as an internal experience even after the laughter subsides
Learn More

Other Related links
University of Maryland Media News has several articles that offer results of a study that shows a good sense of humor may help prevent heart disease and heart attacks. The articles also contain a multiple-choice humor survey to rate your "laugh protection" against heart disease..

Joke Sites

Henny Youngman Jokes – The definitive Henny Youngman collection (Funny2.com)
Steven Wright Jokes - The Master of the Absurd (Funny2.com)
Good Clean Funnies List Archive – This list contains links to clean jokes. (Good, Clean Funnies List)
Yahooligans! Jokes – Provides jokes for kids. Clean jokes in 12 categories with a Joke of the Day feature. (Yahoo Kids)

Leslie Lindeman, Gina Kemp, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, PhD contributed to this article. Last modified on: 9/26/07..

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Laugh and the world laughs with you

Peter Parkes on June 30, 2008 in Campaigns and promotions, Events.

Did you know that we only smile 35% as much as we think we do? And that the longest recorded laughing fit was in a village in Tanzania in 1962 and lasted two years? Two years?!
Well, 1962 was ages ago. At Skype, we've decided it's high time we had another laughter epidemic -- but this time it should be around the world. So, we're creating the world's first and longest giggling fit, and we want you to join it
Just plug in your webcam, watch the start of the chain below, and film yourself watching it. Send us your video and your laugh could be added to the chain.