Let’s Embrace (and LAUGH) – for a Long and Bright and Happy Life

Does laughter improve our health and promote happiness? [Illustration credit: durantelallera/Shutterstock]

Ann’s talk about how connecting with others affects our health and happiness brought to mind the 2001 BBC documentary The Human Face narrated by John Cleese (of Monty Python fame). One of the topics of the documentary which is particularly relevant for today’s blog dealt with the positive social and physiological effects of group laughter. This prompted me to do a little digging to see if laughter truly is good for us and if so, why.

My quick internet perusal indicated that during the years just prior to and following 2010 interest in the wonders of laughter was booming. I can’t tell you how many web sites I found that touted the amazing benefits of laughter, some of which I’ve listed here:

These claims about laughter look to me a lot like claims about hemp and CBD – except laughter is free of course.

The interest in laughter isn’t just internet hype. Laughter yoga (Hasyayoga) has become an international phenomenon, with about 5,000 clubs worldwide with roughly 200 in the U.S. According to Wikipedia:

This type of yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides similar physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. It is usually done in groups, with eye contact and much playfulness between participants. Intentional laughter often turns into real and contagious laughter.

I’m all for laughing our way to World Peace!

In a recent NY Times article Dr. Michael Miller, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, claims that there is good science behind some of the claims about laughter’s medicinal potential.

Laughter releases nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes blood vessels, reduces blood pressure and decreases clotting… An epidemiological study of older men and women in Japan confirmed that those who tend to laugh more have a lower risk of major cardiovascular illness. Possessing a healthy sense of humor is also associated with living longer, an epidemiological study from Norway reported, although the correlation appears to be stronger for women than for men.

Armed with this growing body of research, Dr. Miller prescribes “one good belly laugh a day” for his patients. It’s not just going “ha, ha,” he explained, but a “deep physiological laugh that elicits tears of joys and relaxation.”

I can’t discuss laughter without thinking of my mom. After my father passed away in 1994 she became very active in the Chino Senior Center. She joined the chorus and signed up for a journal writing class (I shared some of her journal writing in earlier posts). But she shined most at being the designated “Sunshine Lady” for the Center. Her good friend Alida wrote this for my mom’s Celebration of Life ceremony in 2005:

She liked to make people laugh, and loved a funny story. She had quite a repertoire of jokes which she … had gathered from her computer. Whenever our meetings needed a lift, Lois, our Sunshine Lady, was called to the microphone and she’d soon have us all laughing.

I should add that my mom sometimes shared her jokes with us before trying them on her audience. To be honest, we found some of them to be rather “explicit,” if you get my drift. However, they never seemed to offend any members of her Senior Center audience, blowing yet another of my stereotypical assumptions about senior citizens (keep in mind that at that time Ann and I hadn’t yet considered ourselves to be senior citizens).

I’m pretty sure that my mom didn’t become an amateur stand-up comedian because she wanted to improve the medicinal well-being of her Senior Center friends, although given the scientific evidence about the positive effects of humor, she must have done some good in that respect. More likely, for her it was a special way of connecting with her fellow Center members. Maybe telling a joke and the laughter it provoked was her proxy for a reciprocated embrace from everyone in the room at once. At least that’s what I would like to think.

In a way, my sister Helen is following our mother’s footsteps. As the pandemic got under way she began sending us periodic emails with “The Chuckle of the Day.” In each she includes a variety of humorous stories, photos, and cartoons. I must confess that many of the items do get a chuckle from Ann and me.

Curious to find out where she got her material, I did a web search for “Chuckle of the Day.” Incredibly, my search brought up over 20 million results. I don’t know how else to make sense of this huge interest in humor other than to speculate that there truly is a human need to laugh, and more importantly, a need to share that laugh with someone.

So, whenever one of Helen’s cartoons or jokes has me laughing out loud (to use the ubiquitous and, to me, annoying “LOL” phrase) I consider it a proxy for a reciprocated hug from my big sister. And, as an added benefit, it is strengthening my immune system, burning calories, and fostering my brain connectivity. Who could ask more from a good laugh?


Cautionary Afterword: Not all laughter may be good for your health!

5 Comments

  1. Bill Falk says:

    One more thing: Andy’s mom, the “Sunshine Lady”, was a real sweetheart. You could say she had a twinkle in her eye and it would have been true!. A sweet smile from a sweet lady.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Andy long ago (over 40 years) told me about one of his commanding officers in Vietnam who used the expression “That’s what she said” when he thought it would be funny. This, obviously, was in the pre “woke” days. All I can say is that as used by Andy in my presence (again, in the last century), it got many a laugh — including once at a dinner at Ann and Andy’s when a couple none of knew very well did not think that this term was very funny. Andy and I responded by laughing even harder. It was a contagion, at least for the two of us!!

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    • theRaggedys says:

      Thanks for the memory (I guess). I have to admit that I still frequently have the urge to use that line, although have had the good sense to refrain. While I was writing this post I was thinking about how much you and I used to laugh in the good ol’ LSU days. I’m sure that laughter-filled period had some sort of positive effect on our well being. Good to hear from you.

      Like

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