Laughter is the best medicine

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Everyone loves a good laugh. A comedy. Cute antics of pets. A funny joke. When we laugh, we relax. We often share the moment with a friend or loved one. We feel good. But why is this?

Laughter affects both bodies and minds in a positive way. The physical benefits are immediate and long term as muscles relax, oxygen levels increase, blood pressure decreases while blood circulation increases, the stress hormone cortisol decreases, and the hormones dopamine and endorphin increase with an overall positive benefit. Further, our infection fighting ability increases with an increase of T-cells boosting immunity, cellular decay reduces, blood sugar levels decrease, and respiratory function improves.

Psychological and cognitive benefits result from these physical effects: Relaxation and improved cognition, restful sleep, decreased negative feelings, improved memory and brain function, amplified resiliency and creativity, rapport with others when the laughter is shared, and counteracting anxiety and depression are all positive results from simply laughing.  Expressing one’s internal emotions with an external expression is a release valve providing a means to being real and authentically ourselves. Smiling and laughing are some of the first communications from an infant even before spoken language. Simply listening to a baby laugh can make us laugh and delight in the genuine expression of happiness.

But when nothing is funny, how do I make myself laugh to bring about all these wonderful and positive feelings? The first part of a laugh is a smile. Your body doesn’t know if your smile is genuine or you prompt it, but either way you will be more relaxed just by smiling. Your facial muscles send a message to the brain that you are happy. Try it! Count your blessings and good fortunes every morning. Thinking positively moves you closer to happiness and laughter than thinking negative thoughts and getting stuck on situations or memories that are barriers to humor and laughter. Yes, there are sad and unhappy events in life for sure, and we cannot avoid them. But for every negative, think of two positives. Your children, your pets, the beauty of nature, the comforts of your home and all the things we take for granted. Think of them with gratitude. Allow happiness in your life and laughter moves closer to the surface.

What’s so funny? When you hear laughter, move towards it. And join the laughter. Sometimes just hearing a loud laugh will make you laugh, even if you don’t know what the joke is! Spend time with happy people who look on the bright side. A choice between Debbie Downer or Sally Sunshine? Go for Sally. Sometimes bring Debbie along though, as she needs your positive influence. 

Make yourself laugh! Like smiling, your body doesn’t know the difference between a laugh provoked by humor or one that you make up. The wonderful benefits are the same. Build a humor library of jokes, funny videos, happy TV shows and uplifting books. Don’t just read the comics and smile internally, let yourself laugh out loud. Create opportunities to laugh, just like you do exercise. There are even laughter yoga classes for organized fun as well as comedy clubs both on TV and at shows.

Finding peace and joy in life’s simple pleasures will bring you one step closer to a chuckle, a hoot, a laugh, or even a roaring guffaw. Seek out laughter, share it with others, find spontaneous joy in life. You will brighten the days of others and find a happier, healthier you.

Researched by Nancy L. Frodermann, RN, MSN for Farmington Valley VNA. Information obtained from: Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association, multiple articles in Psychology Today magazine,, Time Special Edition—The Science of Laughter, 2018.