“Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.” ~ Norman Cousins
Two weeks ago I had an operation around my lower abdomen that turned out to be more extensive than anticipated. After coming out of the hospital I felt battered and bruised and needed bed rest. As a fitness instructor I am usually an active and independent person, so this took a bit of getting used to and required an attitude shift.
I remembered reading about Norman Cousins, an editor of the respected literary magazine ‘Saturday Review’ in New York, who was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis and cured himself with laughter. After trying many different treatments, he closeted himself in his apartment for one month doing what he enjoyed most—reading humorous stories and jokes and watching comedy movies. He did nothing but laugh each day for one whole month and he noticed that every time he laughed, his pain was eased.
My dear Gran who is 97 years old, and still lives independently, attributes her longevity to her great sense of humour. I have fortunately inherited this from my Gran, so I decided to use this to help me to heal and to pass the time while recovering. Every day I watched all my favourite TV sitcoms and a few rom-com movies. To help me to laugh myself well, my husband also got his old copy of Roger’s Profanisaurus out the loft for me to read!
Maintaining a sense of humour about life’s difficulties provides a way for us to look at our circumstances in a different way. It can help to normalize a stressful experience for us and keep things from appearing too overwhelming or scary. Studies show that our response to stressful events can be altered by whether we view something as a ‘threat’ or a ‘challenge’‘. Humour can give us a more light hearted perspective and help us view events as ‘challenges’, thereby making them less threatening and more positive. The key to finding the humour in my situation was to imagine how it would look in a TV sitcom. Simple things like moving or trying to get up unaided were difficult and painful and at times I felt frustrated and low. Then I realized that when I was more light hearted about my situation, I was able to approach the situation in a less negative way. I began thinking about how I would ‘look back on it and laugh’ when I told my friends all about the innovative ways I managed to manoeuver myself to get up out of our reclining chair, how silly I looked doing calf raises with my compression tights on to assist my circulation. And how just doing these simple things took so much energy that I required an afternoon nap!
There are many physical and emotional benefits to laughter. Here are just a few:
Relaxes the whole body – a good laugh provides a physical and emotional release, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes afterwards.
Boosts the immune system – laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine and growth hormone. It increases the number of antibody-producing cells we have working for us and enhances the effectiveness of T cells. All this means a stronger immune system, as well as fewer physical effects of stress.
Releases endorphins – laughing increases the level of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals and they promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
Protects the heart – laughter provides a good workout for the heart. It improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
Internal workout – a good belly laugh exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abdominal muscles and even works the shoulders, leaving muscles more relaxed afterward.
Distraction – laughter brings the focus away from stress and negative emotions in a more beneficial way than other distractions.
Live ‘In The Now’ – There’s currently a lot said in the media on mindfulness and “being in the now,” and for good reason. When you’re basing yourself firmly in the present moment (rather than ruminating on past or anticipated stressors) you’re more open to laughter and happiness.
What are some of the ways that you can maintain your sense of humour? Having a sense of humour is a way to actively seek out happiness instead of waiting for it to come to you.