Gelotology (from the Greek gelos meaning laugh, laughing) is the study of the psychological and physiological effects of laughter on the body – proponents of which recommend a daily dose of laughter for its therapeutic value based on scientific grounds:
- Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
- Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
- Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
- Laughter protects the heart and the brain. Because laughing acts on the inner lining of blood vessels, called endothelium, it causes vessels to relax and expand, increasing blood flow. This helps protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. It’s also good for your brain, another organ that requires the steady flow of oxygen via the blood vessels.
Most gelotologists suggest at least 15 minutes of laughter a day (along with good diet, regular exercise, etc.). If this exceeds your current laugh proficiency, here are some simple steps to get you up to speed:
- Just Smile – even if you’re not happy. Even if it’s the most depressing day you’ve had all month. If you smile at something that’s slightly uplifting (a cute animal, a small child, for example), you’re training your body to laugh more.
- Be Thankful – It’s easy to develop a habit of being thankful once you’ve thought of all the things you have to be thankful for in the first place. The more thankful you are, the less you let things bother you and the happier you become. This brings you closer to a place where you can laugh more frequently.
- Practice Laughing – try to laugh more for no reason at all. This might be difficult if you are incredibly depressed, but faking a laugh can even cause you to laugh more. To get in the mood, you might ask a loved one to tickle your feet (think of the uncontrollable giggles of a tickled child). Or, make silly laughter sounds. Mimic the funniest laugh you’ve ever heard. You may find yourself laughing at your attempts. (Note: best to practice this by yourself at first as the fledgling laughter sounds might be rather annoying to some bystanders; once you’ve got it down, however, let it rip.)
- Find Funny Entertainment – Sitcoms, cartoons, and live comedy shows are great at exercising your laughter muscles. If you don’t know what type of humor suits you best, try watching all types of comedy and sooner or later you’ll be laughing. Once you find what you enjoy, watch a lot of it!
- Surround Yourself with Fun/Funny People – Even if you don’t feel like leaving the house, force yourself to spend more time with people who laugh a lot (and by implication, try to limit exposure to negative, depressing people). Since laughter is contagious, just being around positive people will cause you to laugh more.
- Be Playful – If you’ve ever seen a bunch of children playing, you’ve probably heard them laugh more than most adults you know. This is because in the daily grind of life, too many adults have lost their inner playfulness. Go into a department store with a friend, find some hideous outfits and try them on in a dressing room. Show each other what you’ve chosen and try to stifle laughter. The act of trying not to laugh makes us laugh more.
- Invite Laught er – Encourage your loved ones to laugh more by talking about funny things that happen in their lives. Exchange funny stories and look for the absurd, amusing side of everyday life.
Practice makes perfect. Before you know it, you’re practice will pay off and cease to annoy even your most picky friends. You’re ready for the big leagues. Enjoy!