In the past decade or two, scientists have gathered evidence of laughter’s perks. Laughter blunts stress and pain; hearty chuckling increases levels of the “happy” brain chemicals known as endorphins. Laughter staves off black moods, which can damage heart health and increase the risk of stroke. It reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that’s tied to several health problems, including deposition of fat in the abdominal area, the most dangerous place for it. Laughter can ease anxiety disorders, while the breast milk of mothers who laugh hard contains higher levels of melatonin, which can reduce the chances of eczema in newborns. Laughter may also mitigate the damaging effects of inflammation, a process linked to heart attacks, arthritis, allergies and other conditions. The progress of diabetic kidney disease may be stymied by laughter, and laughter is linked to better respiratory function in those with chronic lung disease. Best of all, you burn more calories when you laugh. (This might be a good time to let go. Go ahead—take a moment or two for a big, fake guffaw.)
By Mary Desmond Pinkowish
Ode Magazine – August 2009 issue
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“If you increase your humor quotient, it will change your life,” says Steven Sultanoff, professor of psychology in the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, and an authority on the therapeutic uses of humor. “Laughter is a physical response to humor,” says Sultanoff. “Muscles contract, blood flow increases, breathing rate speeds up and circulation increases.” For most people, the alternating contraction and relaxation of muscles feels good. This is, in fact, a standard tense-release technique used in many forms of relaxation therapy—minus the laughter. Laughter even increases pain tolerance. Sultanoff says he listens to tapes of comedian Robin Williams on his way to the dentist. But is laughter just a feel-good bandage for occasional tough times?
The strongest evidence for the health benefits of laughter comes from psychiatric research. Evidence has been accumulating for years that people who suffer with chronic anxiety, anger and depression have multiple physiological problems. Anger and depression have been linked to heart disease, while gastrointestinal troubles are said to result from uncontrolled anxiety. The American Heart Association (AHA) warns people who’ve had heart attacks that depression can slow their recovery and increase their risk of future cardiac calamities. The AHA also urges its cardiologist members to get psychiatric help for heart attack patients who show signs of depression. What does this have to do with laughter? “We know that in the human condition, you cannot experience emotional distress and emotional uplift at the same time,” Sultanoff says. “When you’re experiencing mirth, you are not experiencing depression, anxiety or anger.” Mirth reduces the negative impact of anger and other distressing emotions.