Time for a Belly Laugh

by Robin Bush, ISR Communications

“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop laughing.”   – Michael Pritchard

Before you read further, laugh. Really laugh – at something or nothing at all. Chances are, you’ll feel better after laughing. Laughter changes us. It helps us feel more positive; we engage more easily with others, and in short, we feel more “alive.” You don’t have to look far to find something to laugh at. Watch a bird take a bath in the rain gutter and laugh. Read a humorous book and laugh. Laugh with a friend on the phone. Laugh from your belly.

Norman Cousins made the “laughing cure” famous in his book “Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient.” He had inflammatory arthritis and found that laughing heartily at Marx Brothers movies for 10 minutes daily brought him several hours of pain-free sleep and reduced his inflammation. Since then, research has uncovered the connection between laughter and reducing stress hormones and an increase in health-enhancing hormones and infection-fighting antibodies. Laughing improves blood flow to the heart, which induces relaxation and resistance to disease, improves mood and positive outlook, increases pain tolerance, and decreases depression, dementia, anxiety, and insomnia.

Studies in Japan have reported that those who never laugh have a 21% higher prevalence of heart disease than those who laugh daily.    And strokes can happen as much as 60% more in those who don’t laugh daily. When you laugh, you increase your oxygen intake, stimulating your heart, lungs, and muscles, and the result can be a lowering of blood pressure. And stress, a significant contributor to susceptibility to disease, is released by laughter.

You can even benefit when others around you laugh. They say laughter is contagious, so when someone around you laughs, you’ll likely laugh too. Try this – laugh like a 5-year-old. Most 5-year-olds will give long, hearty laughs at nearly anything. The world seems silly to them. As adults, we lose our spontaneous silliness, so we need to work on increasing our laughter quotient each day. Laughter, even if not stimulated by something you find funny – even laughing at nothing- is linked to chemical changes in the body that improve health. 

Laughter also helps you connect more easily with others. We tend to be attracted to people who laugh, and you, in turn, are more approachable when you laugh. Laughter is one of the simplest ways to draw people together.

In their book “Humor, Seriously,” Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas describe one study that followed 50,000 people, and those with a sense of humor lived an average of eight years longer than those without. “When we laugh with someone — whether through a screen or 2m apart — we get this cocktail of hormones that strengthen our emotional bonds in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Studies show it makes us more resilient, creative, and resourceful.”

Laughter is a powerful tool in our health toolbox. It’s fun, and it’s free! No prescription is needed, and there are no negative side effects. Why would we ever overlook such a simple way to improve our health and happiness?