"Laughter therapy is not only a therapy to cure; laughter and good humor are, in fact, a way of seeing and living life from happiness and not from anger." - Menahem Belilty
I have a confession to make. Now that I have your attention…my confession is…I love to laugh. My sense of humor tends to be random, just ask my family, my friends, my bosses and anyone who talks to me longer than 10 minutes. I think my life at times resembles a sitcom, a funny one. The dialogue in our home is often hilarious because we as a family have learned that we can find humor in so many things. I gravitate toward people who are funny and if you want to make me feel comfortable, laugh with me. But the truth is, even if you don’t, I may even find humor in that. Someone once observed that I tend to deflect with humor, especially when the circumstances are awkward…they were totally correct.
Why do I see the importance of laughter? Because laughter is healthy and necessary…physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually. There is something special about the ability to laugh. Although hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects divide the world, laughter is universal. Laughter is not hindered by disability or the ability of legitimate speech. There are a lot of people in our society who can be extremely serious and uptight. This makes sense, as there are numerous responsibilities and hardships that happen to us all. It is reported that more than 16.1 million American adults, or about 6.7% of the U.S. population, age 18 and older, in a given year deal with depression. Depression has many routes to treatment. Some of these include counseling, prescription medication, exercise, and proper sleeping and eating habits. Along with the use of any of those treatment methods, laughter is the one thing that can help lighten the mood during a depressive episode. Often, people who have been diagnosed with depression say that they experienced an unnaturally low mood and lost interest in things that used to bring joy and pleasure. Since laughter has been known to boost feel-good endorphins, it is only fitting that it can be used as a tool to combat the negative thoughts that can flood the minds of those who are impaired by depression. Even scientific research has proven that laughter truly is the best medicine. Laughter, real or even faked, has the same effect on the body. It releases endorphins that can not only make us feel good, but even can temporarily relieve pain. Laughter relieves physical stress in the body, relaxing the muscles, increasing the body’s resistance to disease and improving blood flow. As someone who deals with chronic pain caused by birth defects and autoimmune issues, laughter is not only a good thing, it is a healing component.
I’ve learned that the ability to laugh at oneself is essential. Each person makes mistakes and says or does things they are not proud of. Every person has tripped over something, dropped his/her plate of food onto the floor, and walked out of the restroom with toilet paper stuck to his/her shoe. Learning to deal with this never-ending cycle of embarrassment is important. Instead of past mistakes haunting the memories of people, laughter allows us to bring ourselves out of that dark cave of self-pity.
However, to stay balanced, we need to be responsible with our humor. In our society, some laughter is not healthy. What we once called rudeness is now considered entertainment. We have bachelors and bachelorettes, celebrity housewives and other reality show stars that peddle meanness and vindictiveness as funny and characteristics of being successful. We need to be careful that someone else’s trauma is not our source of entertainment. I listen to story after story of people who are in pain that I do not laugh or find humor in because there isn’t any. However, we can find things amid pain to call out that can lift our spirits as long as we are all authentically laughing.
I have a sign in my home that says, “Be brave, Be kind, Be funny”, and so many times, during a session, I encounter these brave souls with a sense of humor and a kind heart that have found a way to find the humor in the little things that make the pain that they are going through a little easier to bear. I have found that there is deep wisdom in the heart of humor. It often allows us to look at challenges with a lens that frees us from the fear of defeat. I have used humor to diffuse difficult situations and put people at ease so that we can engage with each other…which is the start to fantastic communication.
Please allow me to give some tips that will help us find healthy humor that heals:
* Be aware of cultural context. Don‘t make or share offensive jokes, make fun of others or call other’s dignity into question. The key is laughing at what people do and not at who they are.
* Learn to laugh at yourself. I have found myself to be my best material. If you think of some of the comedians that you enjoy, you will see that they often talk about the humor in their own lives or the ridiculous situations that they have found themselves in. So much of our lives can be funny if viewed from the correct awareness. When we realize that there is so much in this life that is absurd and out of our control, we can keep those circumstances from making us depressed.
* Share as much laughter as you can. A group laugh is as good as a group hug. Laughter can connect us and help us to understand and see commonalities. It is a shared experience of the best kind.
* Lighten up. Not everyone will share our point of view or our sense of humor. If you are the only one in the group that heard something funny, just remember to go back to tip # 1 before you share it.
If we are open to it, we will find that humor is everywhere. If we can find a reason to laugh every day, we can find that our mood will improve, our relationships with others will seem more meaningful and effortless, and life's hurdles won't seem so daunting. Realizing that our body, mind and soul will reap the health benefits of this natural gift known as laughter can be one of the most beautiful things about life.