Have you ever busted out in good, hearty laughter for a couple of minutes and then felt a rush of blissful joy? You know the kind of laugh we’re talking about; the one where you have a tough time catching your breath, your stomach and cheeks hurt, and your eyes water like crazy.
It is this kind of laugh that often leaves us feeling wonderful, and perhaps even a little exhausted afterward. But did you know that laughing like this is also great for your health? Want even more good news? So is smiling.
Smiles and laughter have been proven in multiple studies to benefit a person’s wellness, and these two simple actions can also dramatically change the way others perceive you.
If it has been a while since you enjoyed a good chuckle or shared an ear-to-ear grin, it is time to turn that frown upside down and get busy doing things that make you smile and laugh.
Here are four reasons to get you started:
Laughter Is Medicine and Improves the Body’s Functioning Almost Like Exercise
You may have heard from Reader’s Digest that laughter is the best medicine. Well, in many ways that old saying is true. Physiologically, we change as we laugh. When you bust out in laughter, your heart rate goes up and your breathing rate increases, which gets more oxygen flow to the cells and gives your muscles a big stretch.
Dr. William Fry, a leading researcher of the psychology of laughter at Stanford University, discovered that it took him 10 minutes of rowing to get his heart rate up to the level that hardcore laughter achieved in just one minute.
In other studies, people struggling with illness, depression, anxiety, and other conditions who incorporated more laughter into their lives reported drops in blood pressure rates, stronger immune systems, and less stress.
Laughter Releases Endorphins
EndorphinsYoung woman laughing are the “feel good” chemicals that are released when you exercise, and research asserts that endorphins are also released during a good laugh. A 2006 study by Lee S. Berk of Loma Linda University demonstrated the mere anticipation of laughter was enough to release endorphins.
There is even a new type of yoga quickly gaining popularity called Laughter Yoga, in which participants are led through laughter exercises. Laughter Yoga emphasizes the benefits of increased endorphins and utilizes laughter to reduce stress, encourage a positive attitude, and improve a person’s health.
Smiling and Laughter Improve the Way Others See You
If you laugh and smile more, it improves your overall quality of life by changing the way people perceive you. A study that built on previous research about the effect smiling has on others (1994) found that smiling is a universal response that is understood among human beings.
Smiling indicates happiness, which is one of six basic emotions universally presented and understood across cultures.
In this study, students were asked to evaluate slides of males and females smiling or displaying other facial expressions. The students were then asked to rate the slides on 12 adjectives:reliability,leadership optimism, conciliation, calmness, happiness, intelligence, attractiveness, beauty, sympathy, sincerity, and kindness.
The only trait that was not found to have a significant positive correlation to smiling was leadership, which seemed to be more affected by the manner in which the subject was smiling (head tilted, closed lip smile, etcetera).
Laughter and Smiling Can Help Relieve Pain
A study published in 2010 examined the therapeutic value of laughter in medicine. One of the pieces of research this study built on was that of Norman Cousins, who published an article titled “Anatomy of an Illness” in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1976. This article serves as the basis of most research concerning laughter and health care.
Cousins was diagnosed with a severe form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis. This condition primarily causes painful inflammation of the spinal joints, leading to chronic pain and discomfort.
Cousins theorized that adding laughter to his health care routine would help and began introducing a heavy dose of “Candid Camera” and comedies into his regimen.
He found that this daily serving of humor helped him sleep comfortably—more than he had been able to previously
He said, “It worked. I made the joyous discovery that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.”
And as for the 2010 study that quoted Cousins’ finding? It concluded that there is “sufficient evidence to suggest that laughter has some positive, quantifiable effects on certain aspects of health … Add laughter to your working and daily life, remember to laugh regularly, share your laughs, and help others laugh too.”
When you feel down in the dumps, remember that you have an absolutely free, potent form of medicine available to help you relieve some of your symptoms. The acts of smiling and laughing can be healing, cathartic, and great for your health—even if you have to force it.
Smile and say hello to those you pass
Watch a comedy film or television show or attend a live stand-up comedy show. If you cannot shake the bad mood you are in, get around those that make you laugh.
Laughter, after all, is contagious. As you become mindful of the positive effects of smiling and laughing, you may notice that your days feel lighter and a few laughs and smiles are aimed back at you.