Why I can't stop laughing (and you shouldn't either)

"You don't stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing." (Michael Pritchard)

I really struggled with the notion of these photos being 'out there', first on my friend's Facebook account and now on my blog. Like a lot of us, I fairly carefully curate my social media because I'm afraid to show the world the 'real me'. But then, I had a closer look at these photos and all I saw was a mum having a really funny time sledding with her kids and her close friends at Christmas. Really authentic deep belly laughing.

And then I thought about laughter and its power to enhance our health and wellbeing, and also our general outlook on life. And then I thought that sharing laughter is one of the best medicines for ourselves, each other and the world.

So, (after all that thinking!) here you are ... me laughing as I go sledding (which until we moved to the States, I hadn't tried since I was about 10). I hope you get a laugh out of these photos too.

But more than that, I want to remind us all of the incredible value of laughter.

Did you know the brain can't differentiate between a genuine smile or laugh and a fake one? So, when those facial muscles start moving, they signal the brain to release endorphins and serotonin, some feel-good hormones that do all sorts of great things for your body, whether you're genuinely laughing or not. But that's not all because laughing also:

  • boosts your immunity and wards off disease (by cleansing the lymphatic system and flushing our toxins, for example)
  • busts stress (by engaging the diaphragm in much the same way as deep belly breathing and activating the parasympathetic nervous (rest and digest) system. Researchers say even anticipating a good laugh works to reduce the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and dopac (a producer of adrenaline)
  • reduces pain (by getting those feel-good hormones moving and relaxing tense muscles, apparently for up to about 20 minutes after a good laugh)
  • protects the heart (by regulating blood pressure and increasing oxygen-rich blood flow around the body, plus reducing the mental stress that is known to damage the heart) 
  • aids weight management (by affecting the hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin and warding off hunger pangs; but also by expending energy and raising your heart rate, which experts say can result in about a 4 to 5 pound weight loss a year: boom!)
  • helps manage depression and anxiety
  • releases pent-up emotions
  • makes you more attractive and approachable to other people
  • bonds teams and aids decision making, logical thinking, and performance in the workplace.

When was the last time you had a bloody good belly laugh? How about those friends who nearly make you wet your pants every time you get together? The squeals! The thigh slapping! The tummy clutching! The hopeless breath-catching through fits of giggles. 

Kids are great at laughing, but adults can lose their easy laughter when the stressors of life mount up. We've all seen it (and done it) at the playground: the kids are running wildly carefree, laughing and smiling and enjoying life, while the adults are sitting seriously on the sidelines checking their phones or ruminating on everything that's wrong. That's not to downplay the stress; it's just to make us all think about trying to inject a bit more humour when we can. Actually, kids laugh about 10 times more a day than adults: there's a goal right there.

While we're at it, did you know 'laughter yoga' is a thing? It's been called a 'complete wellbeing workout'. Check out this TEDTalk on the topic: 

So, how else do you get a good laugh? Here are a few ideas:

Look around for lots of things to laugh at. Once you're focused on something, you see more of it more often. (It's like when you're pregnant and you suddenly see pregnant women everywhere. The scientific term is 'confirmation bias'. Try it; it works.)

Fake your smile until you feel so silly you actually smile for real. 

Get in more time with those friends who you know will make you wet yourself laughing. 

Spend more time with babies, children or pets. They're always good for a laugh.

Watch comedy.

Learn jokes.

Join a social laughter club, which are popping up worldwide.  

Give that laughter yoga a try.

Or, you could try sledding down a hill with your kids. 

Read more about the health benefits of laughter from the experts here and here.

How about you? When was the last time you had a good belly laugh? Or are you overdue one?

 

 

 

 

 

Natalie Bartley