When we are born we slowly learn the value of laughter and the joy it brings. Babies and children spend much of their time smiling, giggling and laughing. But as the years creep by and life becomes more complicated, laughter is gradually replaced with a sullen mien. “Pre-school children laugh or smile between 300 and 400 times a day. By the age of 35, this drops to about 18 times,” says Psychologist, Claire Newton. It gets harder to laugh with age because life gets in the way and because we begin to take ourselves a little too seriously. “We get so caught up in the stresses and demands of daily living that we forget to see the funny things that happen all round us. There are many opportunities to inject fun and laughter into our days that we simply fail to take advantage of,” says Claire.
Shareen Richter is a laughter and happiness Professor and expert at creating happier, stress-free organisations and individuals. She has shared her wealth of knowledge with thousands of individuals and many of South Africa’s top 100 companies. She feels that societal conditioning is responsible for our lack of laughter. “We are conditioned from childhood to not act silly, and told to not act stupid and to stop laughing. This conditioning leads us to believe that the more serious we are, the more people will value us, listen to us, and take what we say more seriously,” says Shareen. She also believes we are too caught up in negativity and what is wrong with ourselves, our bodies and the world, and that the more we focus on something, the more it becomes who and what we are. “The World Health Organisation has said that in 2020 depression will be the number one disease in the world. If we want to feel better, feel happier and laugh more, we have to make a conscious decision to bring more of it into our lives.” Although depression is an illness no one chooses to have, we can make a conscious decision to focus on the lighter, happier moments in life rather than the negative ones.
Why it’s good to laugh
Laughter makes our overall life experience more pleasurable and hardships more manageable. It also boosts health and longevity, and speeds up the healing process post illness. “Cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Centre in the United States found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease,” says Linda Scott, Nutritionist and Natural Energy Expert for McNabs. The study found that people with heart disease responded less humourously to everyday life situations, generally laughed less, even in positive situations, and displayed more anger and hostility.” The reasons for laughter imparting such a positive effect in the study were inconclusive, but researchers suggest it may have something to do with laughter being a stress antidote. “Stress is known to impair the functioning of the lining of blood vessels, which leads to inflammation, plaque build-up, and ultimately heart disease,” explains Linda.
It’s well documented that a good giggle relieves stress and tension, but did you know that it also increases energy levels, and that it is practically impossible to feel anxious, angry or sad when laughing? “Laughter boosts our immune system by reducing the levels of stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and dopamine, and triggering the release of endorphins (our feel-good hormones) giving us an overall sense of well-being. It can even relieve pain in the short term,” says Claire. What’s more, researchers estimate that laughing 100 times is equal to 10 minutes on the rowing machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike!
A sense of humour also affects our relationships and can be instrumental in sexual attraction and the formation of lasting relationships. “Research published in the Evolution and Human Behaviour Journal found a distinction between the role of women and men in the interplay of humour,” says Linda. “Women generally want a partner who makes them laugh. Men generally want a partner whom they can make laugh. While both sexes can and do laugh a lot, women appear to laugh more than twice as much, on average, than men. The level of laughter in a woman represents an index of the health of the relationship, while a man’s happiness is linked to the laughter levels of his partner,” says Linda.
How to laugh more often
Happiness can be a choice. Fortunately, there are ways to learn to laugh again, starting with us making the decision to be happier, by focusing on the aspects of life that bring us joy. Smiling is a good place to begin. “Research has shown that even if you force a smile by grasping a pencil between your teeth, you feel happier. When people are happy they smile and an area of research called proprioceptive psychology shows that the same process also works in reverse. Get people to behave in a certain way and you get them to experience a range of emotions and thoughts,” says Linda. Shareen agrees and emphasises the need to remind ourselves to smile. “At Laughter Coaching we have a "Happiness Tool kit". This tool kit is made up of things like a happiness bracelet, gratitude journal and awesomeness cards. In order to make happiness a lasting choice we need to have physical reminders around us every day to jolt us back into our choice of choosing to be happy,” says Shareen.
Claire recommends five techniques to help you find more laughter in your life:
The benefits are clear. If you want to energise your physical and emotional wellbeing, focus on your happiness and laughter levels. And remember, it’s not something that can be delivered to your front door, beautifully packaged with a bright red ribbon. It’s something you need to work on and discover for yourself. And once you find it, hold it tight and learn to lighten up a little.
Sources: Claire Newton; Linda Scott; Shareen Richter