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.”