I have a distant memory of a Russian song, with a chorus that goes something like this: According to the research done in Paris, in order to live long, you’ve got to smile a minimum of 17 minutes a day.
Gosh, those lyrics don’t translate well at all, do they? But the concept does.
Humor is universal. So is laughter. From the high arctic to equatorial jungles and deserts, people intuitively employ laughter to offset the challenges and hardships they face. There is laughter in prison, there are jokes in Kenyan refugee camps and in the poorest favelas of Brazil.
Even if we were quite oblivious to what science had to say about the benefits of laughter, our personal experience tells us laughter is good for us on every level. Laughing seems, for a time at least, to wipe out the worries we have, alleviate our anxiety, lift the veil of despair. Sharing a laugh unites us with others, regardless of the languages we speak. The sounds of laughter are part of the universal human vocabulary, and are recognized by us even in early infancy.
The Closest Distance Between Two People
The great international humorist Victor Borge called laughter “the closest distance between two people.” Do you laugh when you are alone? Most likely not—unless, perhaps, you’re watching funny videos on YouTube or a TV sitcom. Turns out, we need an audience in order to laugh out loud. When TV producers caught on to this discovery, they started introducing TV laugh tracks, so even if it is just you and your TV, you laugh along with the invisible audience.
Girls Laugh More
A fascinating side note…According to research done on laughter, females laugh 126% more than males, but males are the main instigators of humor. Is the “laughter factor” connected to the fact that women on average live longer than men? Nobody knows for sure, but I’ll bet laughter is part of the equation.
By now, the remark that Laughter is the best medicine is a cliché. But there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the point. Author Norman Cousins (Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient) faced a crippling disease, ankylosing spondylitis, from which his recovery was a slow agony. He attributes his success to “humor therapy.” Cousins watched, among others, the films of the Marx Brothers. They made him laugh, and he found that if he laughed for ten minutes, he was able to get two hours of pain-free, uninterrupted sleep.
Health Benefits of Laughter Confirmed by Scientists
Science validates our experience of laughter being a health-promoting behavior. Optimists and laugh-a-lots get sick less, and recover from their ills faster. Laughter lowers the blood pressure, improves blood circulation in tissues, stimulates the nervous and endocrine systems, triggering the latter to produce endorphins which are natural pain blockers.
Laughter is considered a mild form of exercise, by the way, comparable to a few minutes on an exercise bike, so if you had a bout of laughter today, put a check mark next to “exercise” on your to-do list (just kidding: breaking a smile cannot substitute breaking a sweat at Bikram Yoga). Laughter is clinically shown to improve your immunity by increasing the number of and activity of Natural Killer (NK) cells (those same ones that go after cancer cells). Not bad for such an enjoyable, natural and very simple act as laughing. Plus, it is free, and carries no negative side effects.
When we laugh, we refrain from judging.
The cooked food addiction is a hard one to break, but here’s a tougher one – our addiction to judgment. If you are born human, the need to judge is pretty much part of your makeup. We are conditioned to take everything that happens to us too seriously. The judgment is made almost instantly. We get right into the middle of the action, seemingly unaware that there could be another choice made – that of stepping back. Believe it or not, it is actually a choice, whether to be an actor on the stage, or a spectator in the audience. Relinquishing your judgment is simple, albeit not easy, but it is a way to our spiritual awakening. While spiritual texts tell us that we need a complete mind shift to be able to forgo judgment, laughing offers a simple practical step in that direction. Change your mind and decide not to take the seeming problems of this world seriously. Instead, try to keep things in perspective and laugh.
Along with your healthy raw food lifestyle, add a prescription for laughter. Laugh heartily, laugh out loud, laugh until it hurts. Exercise that funny bone of yours daily for at least 17 minutes – the more, the better. Find what makes you laugh and get more of that in your life. Become contagious and spread the laughter around. Need something to get started? Not to overstate the obvious, but there are numerous humorous videos on YouTube and similar sites. Take advantage of this simple and free opportunity and try watching a funny clip in the morning or whenever you can use a good laugh. Share it with friends and they will send more humorous videos in return.