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Why Laughter is Indeed the Best Medicine

Whether you snort, giggle, or chuff, there’s no denying that a good laugh makes you feel better. Scientists are endlessly fascinated by this concept, especially for someone in recovery. So how can you make the most of a daily dose of chuckles? 

What Makes You Laugh?

WebMD conducted an interview with behavioral neurobiologist Robert R. Provine, who said that “laughter is primitive, an unconscious vocalization … in laughter, we emit sounds and express emotions that come from deep within our biologic being—grunts and cackles from our animal unconscious.”

However, what scientists don’t quite understand is the subjective nature of what makes us laugh. Provine stated that “our study failed to discover ‘The Mother of All Jokes’ or even her next of kin. In fact, most laughter did not follow anything resembling a joke, storytelling, or other formal attempt at humor.” Additionally, he told WebMD, “most laughter is about playful relationships between people, not about jokes. If you pay attention to everyday life, you laugh.” So we all have something that tickles our funny bone, even if we don’t understand why. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers this interesting framework of a mindfulness exercise to help you pay more attention to how much humor and laughter is part of your day: 

  • How many times do you have a good laugh? Is it enough?
  • How often do you make others laugh? 
  • Who makes you laugh?
  • Are you careful to laugh with people, rather than at them?
  • Have you ever thought about how you feel after laughing?

So how does laughter impact our health?

The Healing Power of Laughter

Gelotology is the field of study that examines the effects of laughter on our physiology. As Laughter Wellness explains, there are “four levels of physical impact of laughter,” which we provide verbatim: 

  • Biophysically, through pressure waves
  • Biochemically, via neurotransmitters and hormones
  • Neurologically, through the transmission of nerve impulses
  • Energetically, through electromagnetic field interactions

The Mayo Clinic adds that these physiological changes encourage numerous short- and long-term benefits including, but not limited to: 

  • Stimulating many organs and re-oxygenating the blood
  • Activating, then releasing, your stress response so you feel more relaxed 
  • Soothing muscle tension and reducing sensitivity of pain receptors
  • Improving your immune system through the release of neuropeptides to help fight stress 
  • Enhancing your mood and helping reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Increasing personal satisfaction through improved resilience and connections with others. 

In early sobriety, it takes time for your brain to return to a more normal production of essential “feel good” chemicals: dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin. Laughter therapy for recovery is a popular option because laughing engages the brain’s neurotransmitters naturally without substances, helping to reduce stress and anxiety

Many physicians also find success with “laughter prescriptions” designed to help people cope with cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and other chronic mental and physical health issues. Here’s another fun reason to use laughter as medicine: a Vanderbilt University study indicated that laughing for 15 minutes can burn between 10-40 calories! 

If you’re curious about more specific health benefits of laughter, the VA has an extensive list of many studies

Add More Laughter to Your Life

Eager to learn new ways to boost your belly laughs? In addition to watching comedy shows and listening to humorous podcasts, here are more ideas. 

  • Try a laughter yoga class. Don’t worry, you won’t have to bend into different positions. Instead, you’ll be guided to get your chuckles rolling, often by simply giggling along with others for no apparent reason! Laughter Yoga International offers both online and in-person sessions, as well as free videos.
  • Add humor to your gratitude journal. Write down three things each day that you found amusing in your gratitude journal. Anytime you’re feeling down and need a smile, look back on your humor journal.
  • Watch funny animal videos. Surprisingly, researchers continue to release many studies that point to the numerous benefits to this easy-access serotonin lift. 
  • Take a comedy class. What better way to understand the power of laughter than to do it yourself? Great resources include MasterClass, Skillshare, and a local comedy club.
  • Get out and about. If you’re in the Greater Houston area and looking for fun, sober activities, check out the Sober Recreation Community. Dedicated to providing and promoting entertaining events for people in recovery, the organization hosts numerous programs, including the annual Addicted to Comedy show.

Renew Your Joy at Great Oaks
All too often, people who enter into treatment for drug and alcohol addiction have lost the ability to enjoy themselves. The disease casts a broad shadow across many aspects of their lives. Great Oaks Recovery Center outside of Houston is an accredited addiction rehabilitation facility that provides individuals with critical tools for whole-person wellness. Our board-certified professionals recognize the need to restore your body, mind, and spirit and help you create new, healthy methods to live joyfully again. Call us today to learn more.