While this year’s flu strain is spreading like wildfire, I have very little worry that my family will fall victim. We have a secret that keeps us from getting sick: we laugh, a lot! And it turns out that researchers say a life of laughter is good for the immune system. We did not strategically plan laughter as a healthy life style choice. It’s just a bonus that there are some real health benefits to telling funny stories around the dinner table, dressing in costume to watch The Wizard of Oz and the hilarity of a robust game of charades. Even a private snicker at the man with plumber’s pants in front of us in the grocery store line adds is apparently good for us. Thanks to his lack of modesty we may actually live longer.
The good news is that we are all born with the ability to give ourselves this kind of health boost since laughter is something embedded in our DNA. Infants begin smiling in the first weeks of life and laugh out loud within months. I’ll never forget the day our first-born laughed hysterically for the first time. He was only 6 month old and the sound of ripping paper had him giggling with gusto. We didn’t teach that – God imbedded it. Now researchers are explaining why. From studying laughter’s effects on the body we are beginning to understand how vital it is to our overall well-being.
According to WebMD, “Researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effects on blood vessels when people were shown either comedies or dramas. After the screening, the blood vessels of the group who watched the comedy behaved normally -- expanding and contracting easily. But the blood vessels in people who watched the drama tended to tense up, restricting blood flow.”
Research also shows immunity benefits. “Some studies have shown that the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells, as well.
“One study of 19 people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. After eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture.”
Other benefits that have been documented include: relaxing muscles, preventing heart disease, lowering stress hormones, easing anxiety and fear, relieving stress, improving mood, and enhancing resilience.
But it’s not just our health that’s affected. There are also social benefits to frequent laughter. Sharing humor with others strengthens relationships, attracts others to us, enhances teamwork, helps defuse conflict, and promotes group bonding. As proof, consider the Brady Bunch –or think of your own relationships. Those you never laugh with probably add stress to your life. Those you consider enjoyable are most likely people you regularly have fun with.
So, if you want to improve your health, improve your relationships and improve your overall outlook on life, humor is the best medicine. If you are a humor-novice, (and you might be if people are always telling you to lighten up) then here are a few suggestions for creating opportunities to laugh: spend time playing with children, read a joke book and tell the dumbest ones to a friend, read the funny pages, hang out with a funny person, invite the happiest couple you know to dinner, go to a comedy club or a karaoke night, host a game night, share your most embarrassing moments out loud, find time for purely fun activities like bowling or mini-golf, put a toy on your desk, find something ridiculous in trying situations and laugh at them, load a funny screen saver, or frame pictures of you having fun with family or friends. You could always just pay attention to kids and do what they do. They are masters of play and laughter who know how to exercise the funny bone God gave them.
Research only proves what God himself designed. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22
If you’re feeling dry, it’s time for a good dose of laughter! After a long week that included a couple of car breakdowns and a root canal, I’m putting that to the test yet again by spending the weekend with some really fun girlfriends. We’ll take in a comedy show, have dinner at a nice restaurant where we plan to laugh too loud and make memories we can laugh about again in the future. I think it is just what the doctor ordered.