I know you've heard that laughter is the best medicine. It's not a joke. It really is. There are some heavy duty health benefits to laughing. There is actually a relatively new field of study called gelotology which focuses on laughter's effects on the body and mind.

In his memoir, Anatomy of an Illness

_,_Norman Cousins writes, "He found comedies, like those of the Marx Brothers, helped him feel better and get some pain-free sleep. That's because laughter helps the pituitary gland release its own pain-suppressing opiates."

What health benefits can we expect from laughing regularly?

According to Sondra Kornblatt, from her book, A Better Brain at Any Age: The Holistic Way to Improve Your Memory, Reduce Stress, and Sharpen Your Wits, laughter can:

  • Lower blood pressure.

  • Increase vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood.

  • Give a workout to the diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles.

  • Reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

  • Increase the response in tumor and disease-killing cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells.

  • Give you greater defense against respiratory infections - even reducing the frequency of colds - by immunoglobulin in saliva.

  • Increase memory and learning: in a study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, humor during instruction led to increased test scores.

  • Improve alertness, creativity and memory.

It can also:

  • Lessen depression and anxiety.

  • Help you in connecting with others.

  • Give you greater ease in coping with difficult situations.

  • Enhance intakeof oxygen-rich air stimulates the heart, lungs and muscles and increases the endorphins that are released by the brain.

I can't think of any pill, treatment, or therapy that has all of these benefits with no harmful side effects. And, humor works quickly. Less than a half-second after exposure to something funny, an electrical wave moves through the higher brain functions of the cerebral cortex. The left hemisphere analyzes the words and structures of the joke; the right hemisphere "gets" the joke; the visual sensory area of the occipital lobe creates images; the limbic (emotional) system makes you happier; and the motor sections make you smile or laugh.

Here are some suggestions for how your family can laugh more

  • Decide you want to laugh and it will happen more naturally.

  • Post a joke of the day on the refrigerator.

  • Pack a joke in a brown bag lunch.

  • Record and send a joke as a cell phone message.

  • Plan a family open mic comedy night.

  • Watch a funny movie together.

  • Encourage pranks.

  • Learn to laugh at your mistakes. (As an extra benefit, others will laugh with you, not at you.)

  • Talk about serious things with a humorous edge. (Here's one of my own examples: My first husband just didn't understand why he shouldn't date other women while we were married. My second husband didn't get why he shouldn't date other men while we were married. Go ahead, then. Ask me why I'm single.)

  • Call a funny friend.

  • Play with children - they have a much more natural ability to laugh at everything.

  • Read a funny book.

  • Keep a silly journal to look at when you need a laugh. Fill it with humorous quotes, funny events and jokes.

  • Go to a place with lots of people and imagine funny stories about their lives (I love to sit in airports with a friend and dream up crazy lives for the people I see.)

  • Try laughter yoga or join a laughter yoga group.

  • Turn off the news radio on your commute and listen to a morning comedy team.

  • Start a pillow fight.

  • Watch silly YouTube videos (particularly laughing babies).

  • Close your eyes and remember a time when you laughed really, really hard.

  • Read the comics in the newspaper.

  • Go to a comedy club. (Beware that some are rather raw humor, so check them out first.)

  • Listen to and practice the wisdom of Stephen King: "You can't deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants."

Do your best to incorporate humor into your life and your family. It may be work at first, but worth the effort. You will all be healthier for it. It will teach your children how to laugh at themselves and their troubles and help them to have healthier families.

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