Benefits of Laughter
Sometimes we have an urge to just get silly. Kids are great at this – they will laugh hysterically at nothing at all, getting supreme enjoyment from lame jokes and crazy antics. Unfortunately, many of us feel a bit embarrassed when we behave in silly ways. We shouldn’t. It’s good for soul and spirit, and, most importantly, it’s good for the heart.
Being silly does not mean engaging in deliberately foolish actions that draw unwelcome attention, but rather that we should not be afraid to enjoy a bit of frivolity. Talk Like a Pirate Day is one example. A few years ago pirates and pirate language caught people’s interest. Perhaps fueled by popular movies of the day, people everywhere began to pepper their speech with pirate-like expressions: “Ahoy matey! Shiver me timbers, me hearty, thar be one lily-livered scalliwag. Yo ho ho!” Before long, International Talk Like a Pirate Day was inaugurated and celebrated yearly. What is the appeal? It provides an outlet for adults to behave in socially acceptable silly ways. It takes us back to when we were children and would laugh uproariously when retelling our first “dirty” joke: “A white horse fell in the mud.”
Puns and lame jokes, what many term “groaners,” are another example. In the 60s elephant jokes were popular, yet most of them were incredibly ridiculous. “Why did the elephant paint his toenails different colors? So he could hide in a box of Smarties.” Everyone gets emails forwarded with absurd jokes that aren’t funny but make us laugh anyway. Silly humor is a method used by police, ambulance attendants, and emergency workers to help distance themselves from difficult and painful experiences. Humor helps reduce tension in potentially stressful situations. Shared laughter bonds people together. Seeing other people smile lifts your heart and makes you feel good. Silly humor keeps it simple. It enables us to find humor in very small things – and that can be very necessary at times when we feel like the big things in life are all going the wrong way.
There is, of course, a scientific explanation for why humor is good for our heart and mind. It helps maintain a positive frame of mind, which in turn reduces stress and tension on our hearts. Laughing relaxes muscles and reduces tension. Stress weakens the immune system: laughter builds it up. Several studies have found that even a small amount of comedy increases blood levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), an important part of our immune system. Laughter also increases gamma interferon levels and the activity of natural killer cells and helper T cells, all of which fortify the immune system.
Laughter is a cardiac exercise. A hearty laugh increases heart rate and blood flow. It triggers improved respiration and raised oxygen levels in the blood. Individuals with a good sense of humor are less vulnerable to becoming ill when under stress. This does not mean people who are always laughing. People with a healthy sense of humor are those who can find humor in daily events no matter how small – in other words, insignificant, silly things. Being silly and laughing at groaners also makes us feel young and innocent again. It takes us back to a time before life experience and adult cynicism made simple things that amused us as children no longer seem funny. So lift your heart by finding something funny in everyday small things, and embrace the silliness inside.