Laugh your way to better mental and physical health

It's no coincidence that a laugh makes you feel good, says Lisa Sturge. Here's why you should laugh more

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Scientific research has now proven that how we think affects the way we feel, and vice versa. This two-way relationship between the mind and the body, and how one inextricably affects the other, is known as psychoneuroimmunology.

The hormones released into the brain and body when we laugh facilitate relaxation in both areas. This helps us to let go of things we’re worried about, or at least ease their effect on our mental state.

When our body is calmed our mind responds likewise. Deep breathing and laughter help us access relaxation and peace, even if it’s only for a while.

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Unsplash/Reinhart Julian

How to bring your mind into the present moment

There is an unlimited ocean of peace in every moment if we allow ourselves to fully let go in mind and body. Laughing is like being plunged into the depths of the present moment in glorious Technicolor.

Our senses become heightened as we experience viscerally the sheer delight of laughter and let it take the reins; guiding us to an unknown place.

Through embracing laughter we learn that although we cannot control what happens in life, we can control how we respond to what happens…

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Laughter makes us more positive

When we laugh we produce more positive thoughts. It’s impossible to laugh heartily and feel angry, or to laugh and feel depressed at the same time. Each time we laugh, smile and connect joyfully with one another we are creating new positive neural pathways in the brain, which affect us physically and mentally.

When we think positively we see more possibilities, more opportunities – the world widens in front of our eyes (our peripheral vision literally expands). Laughing helps us to be optimistic, to look for solutions, to become hopeful and happier. It helps us focus on what is going well rather than what has gone wrong. Laughing helps keep us cheerful, even when times get tough.

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Unsplash/Vanessa Serpas

Laughing makes us more resilient

Rather than teaching us that life is all about laughing and joyfulness, authentic laughter and experimentation can help us to see laughter as an important tool for coping in stressful times, and when life is not going according to plan.

We learn through acceptance that the aim is not always to be laughing, but that when we can find a way to laugh it can help ease us into a more resourceful state. Laughter helps us grow strong from the inside out, strengthening our own inner voice, encouraging us to accept the ups and downs of life and to create positive change where needed.

There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.
Charles Dickens

Why laughter can improve your concentration

Our learning and concentration is improved with laughter – the more we enjoy ourselves, the more deeply we embed our learning. Play, fun and laughter are essential learning components; they make the whole process more memorable, more enjoyable and more effective. Our brains learn better when we are feeling positive, relaxed and energised.

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Laughter myths busted!

Myths about laughing aren’t obvious but can affect how we think, feel and behave when it comes to letting go…

1

We must be happy in order to laugh

 

This myth inhibits many people from laughing as they feel that it would be inauthentic or ‘false’ to laugh when they didn’t feel like it. If we wait for the perfect time to laugh, or wait for everything in life to be running smoothly, we may never laugh at all! Laughter can surprise us and offer relief in times of turmoil, sadness or even grief, if we allow it to.

2

We need something funny to happen before we can laugh

 

Comedy is great and can be the trigger for many a hearty chortle. Yet evidence shows that the majority of our laughter doesn’t come from jokes; it comes from day to day conversations and playfulness. If we wait for something funny to happen we may be waiting for a really long time.

3

Laughter is too good to leave to chance

 

Laughter is not a passive activity, it is a ‘total immersion, commitment to everyday happiness’ type of process. If we want to enjoy life to the full, we need to make our own happiness as we travel, rather than wait for the entertainment bus to show up.

4

We either have a natural propensity to laugh or not

 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a shy or introverted person, or if you haven’t laughed for a really long time – it’s not about who can laugh the longest, loudest or heartiest. It doesn’t matter if you feel you’ve lost your ability to laugh or you can’t remember the last time you laughed. The good news is, laughter is accessible to us all. It is a re-learnable skill that can be re-acquired, one chuckle at a time.

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3 ways to bring more laughter into your life

So what do we need in order to laugh? A mouth comes in very handy, but there are also three important factors…

Understanding how laughter can help us. We now know that laughter can help us mentally, physically, socially and emotionally in many different ways. Laughter is not just for fun (though that’s a huge reason!) – it is a healthy, natural tool that can ease our pain, free our spirit and strengthen us from the inside out.

  1. Being willing to laugh. Willingness is essential as it provides powerful energy in our mind, body and soul. If we nurture a laughter intention as we go through life this will enable us to feel lighter, stay playful and look on the bright side, instead of focusing on what has gone wrong. Being willing to laugh takes us halfway there.
  2. Giving ourselves permission to laugh.We’re allowed to laugh whenever we want. We don’t have to deserve it. We don’t need to have done something ‘right’ or ‘worthy’. We don’t need to be feeling joyful or happy. If we can stop putting conditions on our laughter then we can access laughter at any time of the day or night, if we so choose. We don’t always need to laugh in the same way, or with particular people or in certain locations. Our laughter doesn’t have to be real, or loud, or demanding.
  3. By gently dissolving the traditional and limiting beliefs associated with laughing we can open up the parameters of our laughter to discover new realms of freedom and adventure. Giving ourselves permission to laugh messily, clumsily, noisily, ridiculously, silently and for no apparent reason other than it feels good, may be a great place to start.

This article was first published in In The Moment Magazine issue 2. Discover our latest subscription offer or order back issues online.

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