Philosopher and psychologist, William James said, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we are happy because we laugh.”
He understood, more than a century ago- laughter makes us feel good. Today, we’re still exploring the many health benefits and embracing concepts such as laughter yoga and laughter therapy.
I addressed laughter in my self-care book because my mom taught me about its benefits. She told me, “whenever you feel badly, just start laughing. It may feel weird, but it will make you feel better.”
I later learned in grad school the influence that smiling has on your mood and it amazed me that my mother was right- that simply changing my facial expression could make me feel better.
Psychologist and hypnotherapist Lesley Lyle says:
“One of the main functions of laughter is that it relieves stress, which explains why some people instinctively laugh when hearing bad news.”
You may be thinking that laughter should be spontaneous. It doesn’t have to be.
The best way to inmate laughter is to archive the things that make you laugh. I did this unintentionally when I was in college. I was a newly married student athlete at UCLA. My husband was gone for 6 moths filming a movie and I was terribly, lonely and a bit depressed. Every weekend, I binge watched America’s funniest home videos. I never watched them before and haven’t since, but when I think of my lowest times in college, I also think of America’s funniest home videos. I sat on the couch and laughed for an hour. I didn’t realize it was my therapy. My body knew what I needed.
What makes you laugh? Funny tiktok videos? I’m sure that’s what I would be consuming nowadays. Save them on your phone or keep a file of funny videos for easy access.
Schedule silly time. Life shouldn’t be so serious- even in the midst of devastating trauma, we can find some relief in comedy. The cancer survivor can laugh at her futile attempt to keep her hair- even as it is falling out in clumps and she knows how this story ends.
The reality is people are completely crazy sometimes and do the most asinine things- Myself included.
Be the first to laugh at yourself.
Pause to think how completely crazy you are. Laugh at yourself!
I don’t believe that you should pretend to be happy when really difficult life things happen. You shouldn’t. I don’t suggest you go straight to laughter when you are sad or angry or scared.
The first response to your feelings should be to feel them. Once you are clearly aware of them and you have spent some time with them, your next response can be about helping yourself to feel better in a caring way.
Laughter can do that.
It changes your lens and influences your mood and reminds you that yes, it’s devastating that you didn’t get that job or your spouse left you or another month has gone by and you’re still not pregnant. But there is still life out there to be lived. You won’t always feel this way and there can be joy in the midst of disappointment.
Even past embarrassing memories that can elicit shame can be used as fodder for laughter. When we are able to laugh at the embarrassing things we’ve done in the past, we take the shame out of the memory and replace it with forgiveness. Humor is forgiveness for our humanity. This can actually change experience of the event, which increases our health. When we recall traumatic or painful events, our body re-experiences them to a certain degree. When we can reprocess this through laughter, we get to re-experience it in a healthier way in the present.
My father once accidentally left me in a parking lot of jail when I was about 7 years old. It’s a long story, but he moonlighted as a physician for the inmates. My mom was out of town. He picked me and my two siblings up from school and had gotten called in to see a patient at the jail. He brought us all with him, thinking it would be a quick exam, and he left us in the car (back in the ’80s when parents did things like that).
While we waited, I had to go to the bathroom, so I went into the jail lobby. When I came out, he was gone. Apparently, my sister had covered herself up with a blanket and fallen asleep. My dad returned to the car and assumed we were all there. We lived about an hour and a half from that jail. About halfway home, my sister woke up. My dad was listening to something on the radio and she called his name to tell him that I wasn’t there, but he told her to be quiet. My sister obliged.
Meanwhile, I’m walking around the parking lot for an hour looking for my dad’s car. When he got home, my mom asked my dad where I was, my sister pipes up, “ I tried to tell you, she’s not there.”
My poor mother must have felt a host of things that women feel sometimes feel when they ask their husband to do a simple task. Needless to say, my father never picked me up from school again.
I’m telling you this whole story because it was a little traumatic for me. I don’t say this facetiously because there are certainly worse traumas. My family has recounted this story over the years. Except my family always tells it as a hilarious thing that happened. You might think, how insensitive, but I didn’t experience it that way.
When I returned home, both my mother and father were very caring. My father apologized and I felt validated, but after that, it became a family joke. If someone wants to get a laugh, all they have to say is “ I tried to tell you” and we all burst out laughing. I believe the humor in which this story has been couched has been protective for me because my brain doesn’t recall this as a traumatic event. I don’t have PTSD or fear of being left or abandoned. Your brain believes what you tell it. And that’s important. You have the ability to influence how you experience life.
Laughter isn’t the panacea for everything, but it is a very useful tool and I encourage you to use it. I hope this blog post has been a little nudge, encouraging you to incorporate a little more laughter in your life.
Here is some additional evidence that you should incorporate it in your life from helpguide.com
Laughter is the Best Medicine
Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
Laughter burns calories. Okay, so it’s no replacement for going to the gym, but one study found that laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day can burn approximately 40 calories—which could be enough to lose three or four pounds over the course of a year.
Laughter lightens anger’s heavy load. Nothing diffuses anger and conflict faster than a shared laugh. Looking at the funny side can put problems into perspective and enable you to move on from confrontations without holding onto bitterness or resentment.
Laughter may even help you to live longer. A study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humor outlived those who don’t laugh as much. The difference was particularly notable for those battling cancer.
How can you incorporate laughter into your life (other than looking at funny Tiktok videos?)
1. When you hear someone laughing, ask them what’s funny.
People love to share the funny stuff. They get to retell it and you get to experience it. My friend, Rosie cracks me up. she will call me to tell me something funny and she starts laughing so hard, she cant’ get the story out. And I’m sitting there laughing at her laughing and I don’t even know what’s funny yet. She could hang up there and I’ve already gotten the benefit.
2. Just start laughing.
Remember what my mom said? Made up laughter is contagious even to yourself. Before long, you’ll be laughing for real.
3. Go ahead and watch America’s funniest home videos. You can still find it out there.
4. Read a funny book
5. Tickle a child and try not to laugh.
6. Go to a comedy club with some friends.
7. Don’t go a day without laughing
8. Try something new like rollerblading or painting, even.
Don’t allow your first attempts to frustrate you, instead choose to see them through the lens of humor and laugh at your clumsy, embarrassing first attempts.