Laughter. It really is the best medicine

Having a good laugh does much more than simply lift our spirits. There has been increasing recognition in recent years of the important role that humour can play in coping with the very worst that life can offer. I'm not joking. Several well-constructed scientific studies have suggested possible benefits from maintaining a sense of humour in the face of severe adversity. Retaining our sense of humour when we are anxious or our life is in disarray is not easy and requires strength and bravery. The difficulty of this task can't be understated. That said, having a laugh can make a real difference. In this article we will discuss the benefits of maintaining our sense of humour despite the worst that life can offer. I hope you will be tempted to dust off your red nose and funniest glasses and learn to laugh again!

Laughter has long  been recognised  as  a powerful  and  effective  psychological  defense                                 mechanism. You might be genuinely surprised by some of the stressful                                   situations  where  people  have been  able to  laugh. Despite  the  worst                                   atrocities of  the  Middle East conflict, there  are a significant number of                                   comedians  who  continue  to perform  there  and  elevate  the spirits of the                             people who live there. There are several successful comedians who are                                   sufferers  of  cerebral  palsy. Individuals  from  all  walks of life have  become                            effective  at  making  other  people  laugh.  Many  have  learned that laughter                            is a useful survival skill.

Many comedians who are household names throughout the world have originated from poor backgrounds and grown up in violent neighborhoods. Several comedians have had abusive childhoods. It is not just professional comedians either. Many ordinary people have learned by experience that having a laugh can help them through an otherwise difficult day. Perhaps you have had the personal experience of being involved in an emotionally charged, stress-filled situation where someone had made a funny joke and relieved the tension. The impact of a laugh can be immediate and dramatic!

The healing benefit of laughter has been more accepted in the field of medicine in the last few years. As a result, there is a small but emerging field of medical treatment called humour therapy. Awareness is increasing of the benefits of laughing and those jokes are getting funnier and more frequent. Maybe there are even secret laboratories where new jokes are tried for their humour value and therapeutic effect! On a slightly more serious tone there is an increasing awareness of possible benefits of homour when we are sick. A number of psychological benefits have been suggested and come as no surprise to most of us.

More surprising perhaps is the growing number of physiological benefits that have been linked to humour. As our understanding of the function of the human body improves, the mechanism of these possible benefits becomes easier to explain. Laughter has proved a useful addition to the therapy of patients with a diverse range of disorders ranging from cancer to heart disease. It is thought that laughter may have an effect on the level of stress hormones and inflammatory in the body at certain times. Possible physiological benefits from humour include the following. 

With each passing year, more research studies are conducted which add to the evidence of the beneficial effects of having a laugh.

It is interesting to observe how many older people have an excellent sense of humour. When very old people are interviewed and questioned about their longevity, they often highlight the importance of the ability to laugh. It is understandably difficult to laugh and joke when the sky seems to be falling. It might however be much more important than we realise.

Hope you get the chance to smile a little today!

By Doctor Andrew Rylatt (Medical Doctor)
4th April 2004
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