Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Laughing Your Way to Happiness

We've all heard that old adage: Laughter is the best medicine, Volumes have been written and spoken about the value of laughter in life and how laughter can make us happy - even if we don't feel happy to start with. Laughter connects people and is part of the fine art of life happiness.

How does laughter relate to life happiness?

Think of this, babies and children have more than one way of showing that they are happy, but the most common way is through smiling and laughing. Research tells us that children up to pre-school age laugh about 300 times a day. 300 times! It's because to them, life is one big happy occurrence.
They have what they need and are not concerned in the least about what they don't have - children are experts at the art of happiness. They are happy to see mom and dad, so they smile and laugh.
They are happy to see their lunch, so they smile and laugh, they are happy to play with a ball, so they smile and laugh - they're happy! As adults, we laugh about 15 times a day. That doesn't mean that we're miserable, but it does indicate that as we grow up, we start to worry and concern ourselves with things, and unfortunately, we end up laughing less, and yes, we're probably not as innately happy as a two year old.
But that doesn't mean we can't be happier! One way to bring a sense of joy and happiness into our lives and practice the art of happiness is by adding laughter. Seems sort of backwards, sure, but if it works, does it matter? If you can add laughter to your life and discover that you find happiness in the process, isn't that great?

How will laughing help me to find happiness?

Laughing does a lot of good things for us. It gives our body a gentle work out by causing us to use muscles in the face, chest and abdomen. It causes us to breathe deeply, cleansing our system. It raises the heart rate, and causes endorphins (feel good hormones) to be released.
Laughing makes us feel the same way eating really good chocolate or having sex makes us feel. After a good belly laugh, we feel relaxed and alive and energized. Wait, those are things a happy person might feel! And whatever it is that made us laugh, later when we think about it, we will probably laugh, or at least smile again, continuing the "feel goods".

How can I add laughter to my life?

You can add to your overall life happiness by adding a good dose of sincere, happy laughter to each day. Here are some ideas:

1. Make a point to watch very funny movies or TV programs that really make you laugh a couple times a week.

2. Rent DVDs of your favorite comedian and watch with a group of friends (or your cat - that's OK too).

3. Play and be silly with small children. They know how to make everything fun.

4. Play fun games that induce laughing - games like charades and Pictionary™ are good examples.

5. Have your favorite comic strips emailed to you or set to appear on your homepage everyday.

6. Look into laughing therapy - there are schools and therapists out there that will help you "learn" to laugh.

7. Just laugh - even if you sincerely fake a laugh, you will begin to authentically laugh because it's so darned silly sounding when you fake it!

Laughter is a valuable part of your authentic happiness! Laughing each and every day is as good for you physically, emotionally and spiritually as taking your vitamins and getting exercise.

Enjoy a good laugh today!

By Winsome Coutts

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Laugh a Day to Keep the Doctor Away?

A hearty laugh a day may keep the doctor away, say the findings of a unique study. Whereas previous studies have examined how negative emotions can adversely affect our health, this study took a new spin--they measured the affect of watching a funny movie on the ability of heart blood vessels to expand. And they found some surprising results--laughing increased blood flow as much as a 15- to 30-minute workout.

The ability of blood vessels to expand is known as vasodilation. Poor vasodilation means that passageways may be blocked and blood flow may be cut off. The result is an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

In the study, 20 healthy men and women watched clips of two movies--a violent battle scene from "Saving Private Ryan" or a humorous scene from a comedy such as "Kingpin." Each participant's vasodilation was measured prior to the movie and again afterward.

The results were "dramatic." Of the 20 participants who saw the stressful film, 14 had significantly reduced blood flow. However, after watching the funny film, 19 of the 20 volunteers had significantly increased blood flow. Specifically:
  • Blood flow decreased by about 35 percent after experiencing stress
  • Blood flow increased by 22 percent after laughing, which is equivalent to what happens after a 15- to 30-minute workout

Past studies have found that stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, which is released when a person is stressed, may harm the body by suppressing the immune system and constricting blood vessels. On the other hand, the researchers believe laughing causes the body to release beneficial chemicals called endorphins, which may counteract the effects of stress hormones and cause blood vessels to dilate.

In a similar manner, laughing may also boost the immune system and reduce inflammation, which is thought to increase the risk of various health problems.

The researchers say they have a long way to go before their hypothesis will be proven, but they point out that there's no downside to laughing and they have no problem recommending it to their patients.