Thursday, 15 November 2012

Laughing is not a Laughing Matter

I recently read in a study that pre-school children laugh about 400 times a day. 400 times!! And how often do I laugh? I actually started to count after reading this and the result varied between a meagre zero to five. According to the same study adults laugh 17 times a day. So I am either not an adult or I just lead an amazingly dull life. But here´s the thing: I do not think I do. I am happy, I am content, I do not think there is anything significant missing in my life. And why should I laugh? There are many Finnish proverbs ready to point out how futile laughter is, and how laughing will get you in the trouble sooner or later. Maybe we Finns are not meant to be laughing… at least not an awful lot.

The study got me worried nevertheless. Am I missing out on something when I do not laugh? Why should I? Does laughter, in some mysterious way, help me to be a better person?

I set out to find out what laughing does to us. I decided to look for facts.

Laughing 100 times roughly equals 15 minutes on an exercise bike. If you laugh vigorously your heart rate increases, your breathing rate deepens, and the muscles in the face, stomach, and diaphragm get used.

Laughter also helps reduce stress, fight infection and reduce pain. Not to speak about how it improves your mood. The levels of cortisol and epinephrine, both stress hormones, will drop leaving your body´s immune system to do its work better. These hormone levels are also effectively lowered by planning enjoyable activities for the future. Is that why we so enjoy planning a trip or a party? The brain chemistry is also altered by laughter. Endorphins, the body´s natural feel-good chemicals, are being released and thus more oxygen brought into the body with deeper inhalations.

Laughing heartily seems to get rid of negative feelings; anger, fear, guilt, anxiety, and tension. You can´t feel anxious, angry or sad when you are laughing. Laughter helps you relax. Laughter helps you recharge. After a good, hearty laugh your muscles will stay relaxed for up to 45 minutes.

When you laugh, it is much easier for you to concentrate on “right” attitudes rather than “wrong”. Humour shifts perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. When we laugh with one another a positive bond is created.

Here is something I had never heard of before. Higher levels of an antibody (salivary immunoglobulin A) which fights infectious organisms entering the respiratory tract were found in the saliva of people who watched humorous videos or were having a good time and laughing. So is not laughing enough responsible for my having frequent respiratory infections? Maybe not totally, but I sure need all the help I can get to fight them. Researchers also found that after an hour of slapstick comedy our “natural killer cells”, the ones that seek out and destroy malignant cells, were more active in attacking tumour cells in test tubes. These effects lasted up to 12 hours.

Books have been written and films made where patients in grim hospital atmosphere were helped to better at least their quality of life, if not provide a cure for their illnesses, through laughter, fun, and watching comedies.

So, laughing is a serious matter. It can make all the difference.

Right, where are our Monty Python DVDs? Faulty Towers? Good old Spede (very Finnish) movies?


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