I’m loving laughing, I have to admit. Since I started doing laughter sessions as part of my mission to help people feel more joyful and alive, I have noticed the benefits to myself as well as those I help. The benefits seem to increase as we get into the festive season with all its stress-inducing activities.
It’s lovely to have a laugh. It makes us feel good. Laughing produces a heady cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters, such as endorphins (the body’s natural opiates), serotonin (known as the happy chemical), and dopamine (associated with reward), which kills pain, boosts our mood and de-stresses. But we don’t always have to be in the presence of of a comedian to have a laugh, our thoughts can make us laugh too.
Remember that time when you saw something funny – a toddler said a rude word, someone tripped over in a comedy fashion, a hilarious meme or GIF on social media – just the memory can bring a smile to your face, a chuckle to your throat, and a rush of feel good chemicals to your brain and body.
But did you know that you can generate those feel-good, stress-busting chemicals and hormones just by laughing and smiling without any trigger at all? You can!
We all recognise that thoughts can stimulate feelings in our bodies, but our body can also do it for itself, no thinking involved. If you start to smile or laugh for no other reason than you can, your brain and body responds by starting to produce the happy chemicals. It’s as if it goes ‘Oh, I recognise that upturned mouth, crinkly-eye thing – we must be getting ready to laugh. There’s something funny going on, start producing the chemicals, boys and girls!’ And it does! As you breathe from the belly in that short sharp way you do when laughing, you are activating the diaphragm which in turn stimulates the vagus nerve, part of the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite to the nervous system. The nervous system fires you up, getting you ready for action. The parasympathetic nervous system on the other hand, relaxes you. It is known as the rest and digest system. So the physical action of laughing produces the stress-busting, mood-enhancing, pain-killing neurotransmitters all by itself. It is its own feedback loop – the more you do it, the better you feel.
If you practise, you are in effect entraining your body and brain to do more of the same – fine tuning the feel-good response to kick-in more of the time. You start to see the funny side of life more often. You become less easily stressed and more easily relaxed and light-hearted. The more you do it, the better you feel.
So give yourself the best present you can this Christmas and laugh! Laugh at the traffic or shopping madness! Laugh at the fact the shop has run out of Brussel sprouts! Laugh when the rellies start having their usual Christmas argument! Laugh when the dog gets a lick of the turkey before you do! Laugh because it’s good for your health, good for your happiness and because stressing and worrying about it won’t change the situation anyway. Laugh because you can, and maybe you’ll start loving laughing as much as I do.
p.s. If you laugh to yourself out loud on a crowded train home or in a crowded store this Christmas, you’re guaranteed to get a bit of space! hahaha
Come to Laughter Room or search out a laughter yoga club near you for a change.