By Mike Moore

Laughter isn't just fun and enjoyable, it's good for our health. Each month modern medicine is discovering more about the therapeutic dimension of humour and laughter and is encouraging us to add them to our wellness program.

the health benefits of laughter

When we laugh we ...

- Alleviate depression;

- Lower our blood pressure;

- Promote relaxation;

- Reduce stress;

- Increase the oxygen level in our blood, giving us more energy;

- Increase the endorphin activity in our body resulting in a sense of well being;

- Are able to keep things in perspective;

- Banish boredom;

- Are more socially attractive - people enjoy being with those who laugh easily and often; and

- Immeasurably increase our enjoyment of life.

Laughter has been called social glue because it bonds us to the people we laugh with. The message is clear: To live better ... laugh more.

If it feels good to laugh then laugh to feel good.

2006 Self Improvement Online, Inc

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prescribe laughter

By Robert Holden

The medical profession is currently quite tickled by the concept of "laughter medicine".

Fascinating new research seems to be endorsing the ancient wisdom that laughter, happiness and a joyful heart are "jolly" good medicines!

Imagine the following scene: you are down to your last nerve, your muscles are cooked, your hair is clenched, you have lock-jaw, you can breathe in but you don't feel much like breathing in, your heart beats only when it can find the time, and your head is auditioning for a part in High Anxiety!

You tell your doctor that life's got it in for you, that you and God have a personality clash, and that you feel the Universe quite simply doesn't want to involve you in its plans. Your doctor reaches for the pill pad, writes something, rips the sheet from the pad, and hands you a prescription not for tranquillisers or anti-depressants, but for ... laughter!

Does the idea of a Government-backed Laughter Clinic make you smile? Funnily enough, in September 1991, I had the joyful privilege of opening the doors to Britain's first official Laughter Clinic. Two years after founding the first National Health Service Stress Buster Clinic, I had felt the time was right for a new approach - something radical, something fun, something even more life-enhancing - "If only I could bottle and prescribe laughter," I thought.

The Laughter Clinic Project is perhaps best described as, "a support group for joy"!

The term, "laughter medicine" is used as a playful metaphor for exploring central themes such as:

- The Wisdom of Happiness;

- The Psychology of Joy;

- Releasing the Fun Child;

- Happiness is a Way of Travelling;

- The Therapeutic Power of Play;

- The Joy of Stress;

- Living Wonder-fully; and

- Laughter the best medicine.

Over 10,000 doctors, nurses, psychologists and other health professionals have attended a training event involving The Happiness Project over the last six years. Modern medicine, so often accused of being over-chemical, over-technical, over-reductionist and over-preoccupied with illness, is showing a renewed willingness to explore the potential medicinal role of laughter, happiness, love, touch, music, play, tears and smiling, for instance, in health. Intuitively, we know that laughter is good for us. Think for a moment how your body feels whenever you laugh or smile - words like "relaxed", "warm", "whole", "free" and "light hearted" often come to mind. Trust your inner-tuition!

Laughter, happiness and a joyful heart really do offer a medicinal, therapeutic touch. It is as if health, happiness, humour and a sense of wholeness are a wonderful string quartet that plays a healing harmony and a marvellous melody.

internal aerobics

There is an old saying, "Your day goes the way the corners of your mouth turn"! Medical research has measured extensively the movements we make on our face and also our entire body when we smile and when we laugh. The research concludes that it is possible for all 600 muscles of the body to move during laughter - thus laughter has been playfully labelled by some as a form of "internal aerobics".

A joyful belly-laugh can exercise thoroughly the muscles, nerves and organs of the main torso. If you were able to sustain a belly-laugh for one full hour, you could laugh off as many as 500 calories! Why not try it - one full hour of "transcendental chuckling" to improve your fitness levels! Medical research also shows that whenever we laugh we release a wave of chemicals through the body including the endorphin hormone which is also released during healthy exercise. Endorphins ("of morphine") are the body's natural pain-relaxant - they stimulate feelings of well-being, joy and release a "high".

Enough laughter will produce enough endorphins to guarantee a "high-impact" internal aerobic work-out!

relaxation + play

One of the mottoes of The Laughter Clinic Project is, "If you are too busy to laugh, you are too busy!" We instinctively turn to laughter whenever we require rest, relaxation and a release from tension. While we laugh, our whole body is exercised; after we finish laughing, our whole body begins to "lighten up" during an "after-glow" period in which we relax muscle tension, reduce stress in the nerves, massage the lungs, restore a full and flowing breathing pattern and gently expand our circulation once more.

Laughter is a cheap ozone-friendly form of energy of which the more of it is spent the more of it remains. Laughter is an impulse that beckons us to balance rush with rest, work with play, seriousness with fun, heavy with light. We don't stop laughing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop laughing. The playwright, Moliere, put it this way: "Our minds need relaxation, and give way / Unless we mix with work a little play."


In Proverbs 17:22 it is written, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones". Since time immemorial, sages and physicians alike have advocated a "merry heart" as a perfect remedy for life 's lessons. For instance, the Greek poet, Pindar, wrote, "The best of healers is good cheer"; and, the poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote:

      Joy, temperance and repose,
      Slam the door on the doctor's nose.

It is fitting then that modern medical research should discover that laughter is a good medicine for the heart. The effect of laughter on the heart is rather like a vigorous massage. During laughter, the heart beat quickens and blood pressure rises; after laughter, both heart rate and blood pressure drop to a point that is lower than its initial resting rate. Laughter is a loving medicine.

happy cells

Perhaps the most exciting medical research on laughter is in the field of "psycho-neuro-immunology" which looks at the effect of the mind on the brain and on the immune system. This research shows that whereas suppressed anger or feelings of intense hatred or frustration, for instance, disturbs the natural, healthy functioning of the immune system, laughter, joy and happiness have been found to help boost the immune system.

The repeated research experiments of Dr Lee Berk at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, CA, shows that laughter, happiness and joy "inspire" the immune system to create white "T" cells, commonly called "happy cells", which help to prevent infection. The philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, hit upon the idea of joyful immunity when he wrote, "Contentment preserves one even from catching cold. Has a woman who knew that she was well dressed ever caught a cold? - No, not even when she had scarcely a rag to her back!"

comic stress relief

Dr Berk's research work has also found that the "mirthful laughter experience", as he calls it, appears to reduce serum levels of cortisol, dopac, adrenaline and growth hormone, thereby creating a reverse effect to the classical hormone response during times of stress. Both physically and psychologically, it is as if laughter acts as a "safety valve" for the discharge of nervous energy.

Laughter can help us to wipe the slate clean in that it can inspire a fresh perception, a new way of thinking, a change of belief, and the revelation of previously unimagined possibilities. Laughter inspires lateral thinking. Laughter is also a good antidote to the over-seriousness that swells during times of stress and anxiety. Over-seriousness blows up problems; laughter blows them away! The psychologist and mystic, Alan Watts, once wrote, "The whole art of life is in knowing how to transform anxiety into laughter".

the shortest distance

Laughter can either serve to build barriers or bridges. In other words, sometimes people laugh when what the really need to do is cry. "Learn weeping and you shall gain laughing," goes an old saying. The "tears of a clown" syndrome of many comedians who are depressives suggests that laughter of itself is not enough - true health requires us to have an honest, loving respect for all the emotions. Let the whole symphony play!

At best, laughter helps to build bridges. Victor Borge, the American entertainer, once wrote, "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people". Whole-hearted laughter teaches love. inspires hope, preaches tolerance and encourages contact and communication. True humour inspires true humanity. The actor Alan Alda put it another way: "when people are laughing, they're generally not killing one another".

keep smiling

A favourite motto of The Happiness Project is, "The most wasted day of all is a day in which we have not laughed". Whole-hearted laughter is a re-creation, a celebration, a creative impulse that encourages us to take the moment playfully. Laughter can transform an ordinary moment into something extraordinary; it can energise us and optimise us; it can conjure up a blessing from any burden.

Above all, the spirit of laughter beckons us to live fully, now, this moment, today. I will leave you now with five prescriptions, collectively called S.M.I.L.E., which are designed to encourage you to make today a little more enjoyable than you initially thought it was going to be.

- S is for smile - donate a smile to a worthwhile cause today! Make an effort to be more friendly today, just for the fun of it. Keep smiling - it triggers curiosity!

- M is for making mayonnaise, or any other dressing that turns something dull into something delightful! In other words, don't wait for happiness to happen, make it happen. Take an ordinary moment and make it extraordinary. Some pursue happiness - others create it!

- I is for impulse, innovation and the irregular. A brand new day is an opportunity to try a brand new way. Change a perception, alter a belief, entertain a new thought, communicate differently, act adventurously. "Each day the world is born anew / For him who takes it lightly," wrote James Russell Lowell.

- L is for the greatest dose of medicine of all: love. Let someone know that you love them today.

- E is for enjoyment. When was the last time you went out to play? Indulge yourself, invest in yourself - give yourself something to smile about.

And remember the old adage, "He [or she] who laughs, lasts!"

Copyright 2006 Robert Holden

contact the author
Dr Robert Holden
Elms Court
Chapel Way
Oxford, OX2 9LP
T 018 65 244 414

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