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By Sara Tomaszewski October 9, 2012

The Power of Laughter

Illustrated by KAMILA CHEMODANOVA

 

Giggle, chuckle, and enjoy the benefits!

Laughter is a powerful gift we are all given at birth, a gift that seems to fade away as we grow older and mature. Cheryl Oberg, a member of the Canadian Association for Therapeutic Humour, points out that children naturally laugh more than 300 times per day, whereas adults laugh only about eight times per day. As young adults, we should maintain a good balance of humour and seriousness in our lives, for this allows us to deal better with our growing responsibilities and cope with the stressful situations we face on a daily basis.

 Laughter is often a spontaneous reaction that breaks free of the psychological and social constraints that confine our feelings and control whether we should or should not laugh. We were taught these constraints through socialization very early in our lives by the serious grown-ups around us. Who indeed wasn’t told at some point by his or her parents: “Stop laughing, it’s not even funny”? It turns out, however, that the benefits of laughter are countless. In fact, we need to laugh.

Already back in the 18th century, a French writer Nicolas Chamfort argues against sceptics who disbelieve the power of laughter: “The most wasted day of all is that in which we have not laughed." From a more recent, scientific point of view, Dr. Annette Goodheart, a "laughter coach" with forty years of experience, explains that humour can boost our spirits, improve our cognitive performance, release stress and anxiety as well as create a deep connection between human beings. Right now, if we were asked to laugh for no reason at all, many of us might not feel at ease doing so, but Dr. Goodheart often encourages people to laugh even if it doesn't feel spontaneous, with the idea that if you "fake it," eventually you will "make it": spontaneous laughter will break out.

Laughter exerts a positive impact on one’s overall health. It reduces the amount of stress hormones in the body (i.e. cortisol or epinephrine), and at the same time increases the number of antibody-producing cells that strengthen the immune system. The benefits of laughter are continuously being studied by scientists. About 500 academicians from various fields participate in this research as members of the International Society for Humour Studies.

Increasingly, in the medical environment, laughter therapy is prescribed to patients as a way of coping with pain and any undesirable emotional state that accompanies a disease. One role-model doctor with a cheerful attitude is the renowned Patch Adams, who chose to heal his patients in an unconventional way by giving them laughs. He is the central figure of the 1998 film by the same name, starring Robin Williams. In the movie, Patch Adams is repelled by the clinicians’ cold approach to patients and decides to clown around at the hospital to spread happiness and emotional relief. His behaviour is condemned by the faculty of his school, but Patch Adams persists in his cause and justifies himself, saying:

"The American Journal of Medicine has found that laughter increases secretion of catecholamines and endorphins, which in turn increases oxygenation of the blood, relaxes the arteries, speeds up the heart, decreases blood pressure, which has a positive effect on all cardiovascular and respiratory ailments as well as overall increasing the immune system response."

The medicine behind this quote is, in fact, accurate. At the time of the film’s release, more than a thousand doctors advocated Patch Adams’ cause.

Laughter therapy increased in popularity when Norman Cousins, an American political journalist and professor, claimed to have cured his chronic arthritis by watching comedy shows and films. He concluded that ten minutes of intensive laughter gave him two hours of pain relief. What may astonish you even more is that laughing can be a good workout: “laughing 100 times is equal to 10 minutes on the rowing machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike” (Brain, 2012).

Finally, for whatever reason you choose (or even for no specific reason at all), do yourself a favour and spark your sense of humour by laughing as much as you can. There are so many things that can spread a smile on your face: a funny story, a comedy show, the Just for Laughs festival, or simply nice friends who love to laugh. Take all the laughs you can and like the comedian Yakov Smirnoff once said, let’s all live “happily ever laughter.”

About the author

Sara Tomaszewski is a second year Health Science student.

About the illustrator

Kamila Chemodanova preferred mediums are pen and ink and watercolours. She would like to design children's books and development toys. Her work is inspired by the Silver Age of Russian culture and its illustrators (Ivan Bilibin, Alexandre Benois and Leon Bakst among the others).

Comments

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    Stephanie Ann De Vincenzi

    November 11, 2012

    It’s amazing to think that such a simple thing such as laughing, can have such countless benefits! Laughter is a reaction upon hearing something that we find funny and entertaining. Never would I have thought that a reaction can actually have a positive impact on a persons health. It’s such a detailed and intriguing piece of literature. I always knew that laughing was good for the heart, thanks to the old cliche, however I now know that there is more to laughing. From sociology to psychology this topic covers it all. It’s sad to think though, that as we grow older, we forget that we only have one life to live and to make the most of it. As the years pass, and we enter adulthood, stress increases as do things to do. We enter the real world, and the real world is sometimes harsh and unfair. We get so caught up in this that we forget to take a few moments to let loose and laugh things off. In fact, many of us are far too serious. After reading this piece, and learning the many benefits of a simple laugh, I will definitely laugh more often. As Charlie Chaplin once said, “a day without laughter is a day wasted.”

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    talia.tahtadjian

    December 9, 2012

    This articles puts a smile to my face.  It is extremely interesting to see all the benefits a simple laugh can bring. I knew that laughter may relieve stress and anxiety and knew vaguely that it was good for our overall health, but I found it really fascinating that more and more doctors are using “laughter therapy” to help their patients cope with pain and disease!  When Patch Adams says that “laughter increases…oxygenation of the blood [and] relaxes the arteries” I thought of the thousands of Canadians suffering from heart related problems, and how this medical finding could be so beneficial for them.  I guess I will be telling my father to watch more comedy television, then.  As a growing teenager and soon to be adult, I feel now that we should all be laughing a bit more to gradually improve our physical and mental health.  This was the perfect, light article that brightened up my day and made me watch “Patch Adams” not once, but twice today.

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    kataleenwebb

    April 3, 2013

    Laughter is definitely a powerful thing.  This article really proves that is something quite under appreciated in our society.  I believe even if one fakes a smile while feeling sad, they tend to feel a lot better, this takes it to a whole new level!  The problem in our world is that many people don’t realize that growing old doesn’t mean you have to grow up.  Clearly, to be healthy all we need to do is channel (previously mentioned, and my personal favourite) Robin Williams, goof and joke around, and have a good laugh, EVERY DAY!

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    oster

    April 16, 2013

    “Patch Adams” is a fantastic movie and a movie that truly shows what laughter can do to help cure someone. Like it says in this article we NEED to laugh and as a result of this NEED, not want, people will hopefully become happier. Happy at their job, happier getting up in the morning and hopefully happier in their everyday life because your attitude will not only effect you but the people around you. People don’t realize what a big influence they have on their surrounding peers and therefore should try and make the effort to be more enthusiastic, try not to take things so seriously at times and to just laugh, Laughing feels good, it’s natural and most of the time is spontaneous, something we don’t even process or think of before it happens…..kinda like breathing. This articles makes me reflect on my life and how much I laugh, and how much I try and make other people laugh on a daily basis whereas some do just the opposite. There are billions of people on the earth and lots are angry at the world, very serious people working serious jobs with big responsibilities and that’s fine but live a little. Take the time to relax, not be so serious and enjoy life because yes I agree we must be serious in life, but there at times when laughter is needed and fun should be encouraged. There is a time and place for everything, laughter is one thing that should be made time, time to enjoy it and just laugh.

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    Phoebe

    April 16, 2013

    Laughing, ah how I love laughing. Recently it seems I have been laughing a lot lately. I used to laugh in silence, I guess you can say, like that really awkward, no sound, cheek hurting, doubling over in pain type of laugh. Nowadays, although I still have that high cheek bone smile and quiet laugh, I have also been literally l-o-l-ing, laughing out loud. My brother seems to think that it’s fake, and perhaps it’s because he’s not used to me laughing loudly, but I enjoy laughing loudly, having my voice boom and reverberate off the walls. I’m in my second semester of Biomedical Laboratory Technology, the supposed last easy semester, and I think that my excessive laughing is a tool to help me cope with all the stress I’ve been feeling.

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    Naly

    April 25, 2013

    Wow! Very interesting article. As someone who laughs a lot, I always thought there was a benefit to it, but never actually did research on the topic. I am glad study has shown how powerful it is. Even though scientists are still studying the effects of laughter on our health, I am certain that they will eventually be able to measure and prove that laughing makes you happier, less stressful, improves your overall immune system and even more benefits I am eager to find out! I did not know that laughter therapy existed and I think it is a brilliant idea. I will now appreciate laughing even more, thank you for putting a smile on my face!

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    merrylarren

    June 14, 2013

    Very nice article shared on laughter. Laughter is the best medicine, heard from childhood. After a lot of research it has been proven. Having a smiling attitude in every situation is a good sign of keeping self happy and prosperous.
    http://www.fertilemind.com.au/category-baby-feeding-158.aspx

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