We need to laugh more! Laughing is good for us. Indeed, humour is a science and laugher researchers publish in the psychological and physiological literature as well as in subject specific journals. Laughter is a huge part of my work. I deliberately integrate humour into all of my presentations because I am conscious of the fact that laugher is often the ‘break through’ in self-discovery – when we see ourselves in the stories.
We need to take our jobs seriously but ourselves lightly. Often, we get all worked up about simple things – things that do not really matter that much. This is very common in the workplace. Many people nearly lose their sense of humour altogether as they submerge themselves into duties, responsibilities, formalities and red tape. I teach very important material about health and happiness to employees of various organisations nationwide but I always intertwine the subject matter with frequent opportunities to laugh. It is sometimes much easier to communicate serious information about well-being in this way. When we start laughing we become more open-minded, less self-critical and crucially feel better.
Gelotology is the scientific study of laughter. The term was coined in the 1960’s by Dr. William Fry and Dr. Edith Trager. Even fake laughter has beneficial effects but it’s real laughter that is magical. Laughter or Humour therapy is a recognised qualification and many mental health services throughout the world have incorporated it into the menu of formal interventions offered to patients who are feeling low. Like every intervention motivation is a factor and practice is key! However, the positive changes to our physiology make a convincing case to even the most cynical person that it is worthwhile.
Dr. Rod A. Martin (no relation) highlights four potential mechanisms by which humour might influence physical health. Vigorous laughter relaxes muscles, improves respiration, enhances circulation, increases the production of endorphins and decreases the production of stress-related hormones. He also contends that laugher can increase pain tolerance; improve our immunity system and undo cardiovascular consequences of negative emotions like anger. Humour is also a coping strategy. It releases us from the clutches of stressful thinking. There is a social benefit too. Laughter is contagious. We rarely laugh alone! (although be assured that it is not harmful to burst out laughing while in your own company!)
(c) Shane Martin
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© Shane Martin