Have you been laughing lately?
People today are exposed to many daily stresses, stemming from complicated human relationships, anxiety about the future, and social environments. In recent years, numerous studies are conducted on the effectiveness of laughter; a very common natural reaction we all have.
Is Laughter the Best Medicine?
Laughter has an impact on one’s physical wellbeing through the immune system. About 5,000 cancer cells are produced in the human body every day. NK cells (A.K.A. the body’s defective cells) are designed to dispose of these cancer cells in an appropriate manner. Laughter has been shown to increase the number of these NK cells. One study in Japan invited cancer patients to watch a traditional Japanese comedy play. Scientists measured the activity rate of NK cells before and after the viewing and found that activity levels increased in about 70% of the patients.
Laughter may actually be the best of all medicines. It alleviates pain from rheumatism, improves blood sugar levels, has no side effects, and is proven effective in a short time frame for various diseases. The major attraction about this “medicine of laughter” is that it’s easy to practice any time, anywhere.
Laughter for the Mind
There are also many studies showing laughter effective for psychological stress. Enjoyable laughter helps clear our head, lowering the mental stress hormones emitted by the frontal lobe. Recent research shows that laughing increases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn increases the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system as a rebound effect. Laughter temporarily excites the autonomic nervous system, bringing a psychological relaxation effect. The feeling of calmness and clarity after a good laugh is one of the easiest effects we can experience ourselves.
Supportive Humor Works
What makes us smile? There are various motivations for our smiles and laughs. We smile naturally when we find something funny or fun, but sometimes we may laugh to mock ourselves or others. Experiments have shown that smiling for the purpose of encouraging and energizing (i.e., supportive humor) is particularly effective for stress care. This means that the act of smiling to encourage and inspire others helps alleviate stress, and creates calmness within.
Fake Smiles Are Effective Too
Even when laughing is beneficial to our physical and mental health, it’s hard to smile naturally when we’re feeling down or depressed. During those times, your smile doesn’t necessarily have to be accompanied by happy emotions. For example, some experiments have shown that holding a pen in your mouth and making a smiling expression with your facial muscles, can help suppress negative emotions and trigger positive ones instead. It’s also been reported that fake smiles can improve blood flow, and experiments have shown that consciously imagining and creating a smile helps reduce stress and possibilities of burnouts.
Typically, a feeling of happiness is what leads to the physical response of laughing or smiling. However, even if you are in a state of mind that doesn’t allow you to laugh naturally, you can lead yourself to a positive mental state by simply forming a smile on your face. When you feel sad or angry in your day-to-day life, try putting on a conscious smile. It will reduce your stress and keep your mind healthy.
Ishibara, S. (2007). Experimental study of spontaneous laughter and its effect on the autonomic nervous system. Bunkyo University Bulletin of Human Science, 29, 51-59.
Miyake, Y., & Yokoyama, M. (2007). A Review of the Effects of Laughter on Physical and Mental Health. Bulletin of Faculty of Health Sciences Okayama University Medical School, 17, 1-8.
Mori, H. (2013). “When You’re Smiling, The Whole Smiles Whole World Smiles with You” Experimental Investigations of the Facial Feedback Hypothesis. Bulletin of Bunka Gakuen Nagano Technical College, 5, 61-66.