Laughter is the Best Medicine!
The writer Robert Frost once said, “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” The phrase “laughter is the best medicine” is not an accidental association. The anatomy of what makes things funny is incredibly complex, however the physical and emotional benefits that laughter provides to us can be immeasurable. There’s also a wonderful intimate bond that we can share with our best friends, spouses, lovers and partners that is deeply rooted in humor.
So what makes us laugh? What makes me laugh might not always make you laugh, and vice versa. Senses of humor can vary across the board, but at the same time, humor is a universal language. It can help the introvert break out of his shell; and for many of us in relationships, it can be the glue that helps hold that relationship together. A recent Yale Department of Psychology study explains that, “When people are asked to rate the importance of various traits for romantic relationships, a good sense of humor is consistently at or near the top of their lists, sometimes outranking physical attractiveness.”
Comedy has many characteristics, here are just a few of the major ones:
1. Things that are truthful, expected and familiar.
How many times have you hear a story about an ex-boyfriend or a quirky coworker and caught yourself saying, “It’s funny because it’s true!” that’s because when laughing at familiar situations we’re acknowledging a certain camaraderie with our friends. We’ve all experienced the pain before. Who hasn’t been stuck behind the slow person at the grocery check out line? Who hasn’t had our grocery bag break at the bottom and have all its contest roll all over the floor? We understand and expect the pain that those situations give us, and therefore can share the humor in its predictability.
2. Things that are unexpected, unfamiliar or surprising.
I crack up every time my innocent grandmother used to tell a dirty joke. Why? Because it was so unlike her nature. I have a good friend who is married to a pretty quiet, shy guy; but occasionally he comes out with a zinger or one-liner, in response to a current situation… and that floors me. Surprise is an element of humor that can deliver instant delight and heighten something that wouldn’t normally be funny.
3. Time and Timing.
Mel Brooks once said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” The Germans have a word for it… schadenfreude; the enjoyment and humor is seeing or hearing about someone else’s pain. Although we’d never wish that on a someone we care about, who hasn’t giggled about the innocent mistakes of a loved one? There’s good timing and bad timing. Joking with someone right after a bad event isn’t funny. If that person has had some time to get over that event, mourn about it, and accept it then they might be the first to joke about it afterwards. We love to share war stories about exes and past relationships, just allow some time to pass before trying to ease the pain of it with the humorous side of it. “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”
So what does laughter do for us physically and emotionally? A study by the Mayo Clinic shows the following: first off, laughter is a big stress reliever. The physical action of laughter can trigger physical reactions in your body, stimulating many of your organs—heart, lungs, muscles—and increases endorphins which relax you. Also, it fires up your stress reducing response system in your body, while increasing heart rate and stimulating blood flow. With this improved circulation comes muscle relaxation, reducing the physical symptoms of stress. Laughter can also improve your immune system by reducing negative thoughts which normally would lower your immune system. Positive thoughts release neuropeptides in the brain, helping to fight stress. Laughter can also raise good cholesterol in the body, similar to physical exercise. Laughter can break pain-spasm cycles that cause muscle disorders. Last but not least, laughter reduces depression while improving your overall mood. If I’m ever battling a cold, flu or even a bit of the blues, I put on some of my favorite funny movies to watch, and the effect is outstanding.
Sharing humor in our relationships is exceptionally beneficial. Sharing funny stories that only you and your partner get builds a level of happiness intimacy between the two of you. This can take time (maybe years) to establish, but it’s usually what can take a romantic relationship between two people and add on a great level of friendship. Laughter helps the two of you cope with stressful situations, and it can also help you relive happy fun times that the two of you have shared in the past. Whether it’s acknowledging of you may have been right upon a disagreement or accepting each other’s idiosyncrasies because you love one another, laughter is the best way to acknowledge the bad times, and helps us remind ourselves that we are human.