Saturday, April 13, 2013

L is for Laughter

How often have we heard the phrase ‘laughter is the best medicine’? Have you ever wondered is this just another old wives’ tale - a myth, or is there really something to it? It is certainly true that we all love a good laugh but is there more to it than just a momentary reaction to a funny story or situation?

Well, with a little bit of digging around the internet, it appears there is something to it alright. Studies show that there are both physical and mental benefits to having a good old chuckle. For starters, your first reaction to something funny might be a smile and this involves a degree of facial muscle exercise. But it’s more than that – depending on the degree of laughter you will actually get to exercise your stomach muscles (yeah, the good old ‘belly-laugh’!), your back muscles and even your arm and leg muscles. Even more than that – your heart rate will increase slightly and your blood flow increases to all the tissues of your body. It may also lead to an increase in antibodies thereby boosting your immune system.

Now that’s a lot of physical benefit right there. But what about mental or psychological benefit? Well, laughter also helps to produce endorphins (think ‘happy chemicals’) which work in the brain to give an overall feeling of well-being. And here’s the thing – once the laughter is over, that feeling of relaxation and well-being can persist for up to 45 minutes. So there is a lot to be said, both physically and emotionally, for just letting go and having a good laugh.

I remember several years ago in a department I ran in work, I would hold a weekly management meeting. Amidst all the serious business of the day we usually found time for a bit of a laugh as well. On one occasion as we emerged from the meeting room, one of the staff approached me and asked what did we do at our meetings as most weeks all he heard was laughter coming from the room. I told him we were having fun – as that was one of the best ways to get the work done. Unfortunately, the business environment is a lot tougher now and it is sad that there is not so much laughter in the workplace. Goodness knows it is badly needed – there are far too many people on sick leave due to stress and strain.

Apart from the workplace though, it is a pity that as we grow older we generally seem to get out of the habit of laughing. Studies tell us that children laugh several hundred times a day whereas adults manage it only about 10-15 times. Now, I’m sure you are saying to yourself, that’s all well and good but sometimes it can be difficult to find genuine laughter-inducing situations and we are at the mercy of chance and circumstance for something funny to happen. True, but did you know that, apparently, the body cannot distinguish between real and fake laughter. This has given rise to the concept of Laughter Yoga.

Laughter Yoga is a unique concept where anyone can laugh for no reason, without relying on humour, jokes or comedy. Laughter is initiated as an exercise in a group, but with eye contact and childlike playfulness, it soon turns into real and contagious laughter. It is called Laughter Yoga because it combines laughter exercises with yoga breathing. This brings more oxygen to the body and the brain which makes you feel more energetic and healthy, giving the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. It was started by a medical doctor, Dr. Madan Kataria from India in 1995. There are now thousands of ‘laughter clubs’ in more than 65 countries including Ireland. I have to admit, I’m not sure laugher clubs would be for me. I much prefer a naturally-induced fit of the giggles.

But no matter what works for you, my message today is simple - let’s try to take life a little less seriously. So come on people, let it all out – smile, laugh, have fun. You know you want to!

It would seem appropriate to end this particular post with a wee joke:

Two elderly couples were walking down the street, the women a couple of metres ahead of the men. One man told the other that they'd had a wonderful meal the night before-great food, reasonably priced. His friend asked for the name of the restaurant. "Well, I'll need your help on this. Let's see, there's a flower that smells great and has thorns on the stem?"
"That would be a rose," his friend responded.
"That's it!" the man replied. Then he shouted to his wife: "Hey, Rose! What's the name of the restaurant we ate at last night?"


  1. Great post. I've heard that joke before, but it's still funny.

    You are so right about laughter helping at work. My most stressful job was also in a department where we'd share a good laugh. Between the stress relief and the feeling of friendship, it made the stress that much easier to handle and inspired better teamwork, too. More people need to realize these benefits in the workplace.

  2. What an awesome post John and it's so true! Loved the joke.

  3. *giggles* I did Laughter too.
    Your's a very informative post. The best career move I made was leaving a job because one day I realised I missed laughing. I'm a laugher, I love it - it's such a good emotional release.

  4. I bet you're right about children and laughter. It's so easy to get kids to laugh, and I love a good chuckle in the classroom.

    Cute joke. Please visit my humor blog for a laugh.

  5. It was great to meet you the other night.
    We had a good laugh alright. But you left too early. That Trish Nugent one had us laughing all night!
    Great post :)