JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS - August 2018 - Kansas City
Laughter Feeds the Body-Mind
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
Laughter therapy began with Hippocrates and Aristotle! Fast forward to the mid-20th century and we find Norman Cousins, the editor-in-chief of the Saturday Review, writing about laughter as therapy. He was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful degenerative disease, causing breakdown of collagen and began to explore alternative approaches to healing. In his landmark book, Anatomy of an Illness, he writes about his discovery that watching funny movies made his pain decrease. He tells us that 10 minutes of laughter brought him two hours of pain free awake or sleep time.
He stated, “Laughter is like a bulletproof vest,” and “Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.” He later went on to become a professor and studied the effectiveness of laughter on health and is often referred to as the father of laughter therapy.
Multiple studies have shown that laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, mental and physical illness, and conflict. In the article, “Laughter is the Best Medicine” (helpguide.org), the author states “Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.”
JongEun Yim, in the article “Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review,” writes, “Laughter therapy physiologically reduces the level of stress hormones, increases the level of health promoting-hormones such as endorphins, and strengthens the immune system…it also has an effect on reducing blood pressure by controlling vasoconstriction…helps reduce unpleasant feelings such as tension, anxiety, hatred and anger, alleviates stress and depression, aids better interpersonal relationships, and improves insomnia, memory failure and dementia.”
Our brain responds to laughter by triggering the release of endorphins, the happiness hormone, and releases dopamine and serotonin, the stress hormones. These neurotransmitters are in charge of our motivation, balancing our mood, and fighting mental issues like depression and anxiety. The heartier the laughter the more it helps us keep a positive outlook on life.
Laughter is a natural stress-reducing medicine by combating stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. JongEum Yim writes, “ Laughter helps people endure stressful processes or situations, reduces depression, helps people judge their problems objectively, and improves problem-solving ability by increasing insight. Therefore, laughter helps people prevent themselves from being influenced by the environment and control themselves (Wooten 1996).”
Living in a society that is highly competitive and has many socioeconomic, environmental and political stressors negatively impacts our self-esteem. This is seen in the high numbers of very young to older people who are experiencing depression, anxiety and stress-related illness.
The evidence is convincing that laughter helps to improve our mental and physical health. It can help us to reduce stress, increase self-esteem, and raise our mood. Sharing laughter and humor brings us closer to others and creates positive social experiences.
My question to you is, ‘What makes you laugh?” Think about the activities or experiences that cause you to laugh. Maybe you like those cat videos, a favorite comedian, movie, or book. Recently I found myself laughing out loud as I read different greeting cards with humorous lines.
Michael Yapko, Ph.D., gave this exercise in a training seminar. Think of the negative self-talk conversations you have with yourself. Now imagine your favorite comedian, cartoon character, or person in a comedy show speaking these words to you in their voice. Just thinking of it may bring a smile to your face.
There is hardly any facet of your life that remains unaffected by laughter. I suggest you think of things that make you laugh, find people to share humor and laughter with—then begin to enjoy greater physical and emotional health, plus thinking more clearly and positively. Feed yourself with laughter! It really is nourishing.
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Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor, educator and author. For counseling appointments, seminars, training, speaking engagements or information on Neurobehavioral Programs or Imago Couple therapy call 913-322-5622. For more information about Jude LaClaire or the Kansas City Holistic Centre go to