A Little Laughter Goes A Long Way

Today's lifestyle can be incredibly demanding. One outcome is the number of frazzled and stressed-out people in our society. Yet, there are many people who experience the same demanding lifestyle and never become stressed.

Research suggests that stress-resistant persons are those who exercise regularly and set aside some time for relaxation. In addition, they make time to remain bonded with other people and add fun and laughter into their lives. Many studies show that humor and laughter provide physical, mental, and emotional health benefits, as well as enhancing work productivity and life satisfaction. If you rarely take time out for pleasure and tend to look at things in a negative way, you are likely to have health problems in the future and perform less productively than if you take the time to enjoy the opportunities for humor in life.

Fun requires no justification beyond the sheer pleasure it provides. However, there are plenty of other reasons for thinking seriously about trying to pack more fun into your life. Each moment of enjoyment or burst of laughter recharges the spirit, making it easier to cope with the more serious side of life. Mirth and merriment also release some of the physical and emotional tensions that come from stress. Having fun with others often breaks down barriers. Those who play together, often work together more easily in family and job settings.

Researchers suggest having at least 15 laughs a day for health maintenance. A belly laugh is like a mini-workout or "internal jogging." When people laugh, their muscles are activated, heart rate is increased, and respiration is amplified with an increase in oxygen exchange. Laughter can produce muscle relaxation and is a powerful tool for releasing pent-up feelings of anger, fear and anxiety and for reducing the risk of heart disease, headaches, chronic anxiety and stress. Good laughter is like a "social lubricant" that helps break the ice and ease social tension.

Laughter is a free tool for team building and "emotional weight-loss." More important, laughter is non-fattening, non-polluting, free, non-taxable, constantly renewable, happily contagious, and does not require batteries or special assembly. The physiological effects of laughter may account for some of the benefits of fun.

"Laughter and fun are a prescription for almost all the ills we have," says Leigh Anne Jasheway, M.P.H., coordinator of Health Promotion Services at the University of Texas Health Science Center Houston. The ability to have fun, without dulling the senses with alcohol or other substances, is an important skill that parents should teach their children, she adds.

So what exactly is a sense of humor? It's not easy to define. Some researchers believe that humor requires fairly sophisticated thinking processes; others agree that humor should also include playful and enjoyable components. Another element of humor is that it involves incongruities. Humor is like beauty; it doesn't exist in the real world, but in the minds of the beholder. A dictionary defines humor as "the ability to perceive, appreciate, or express what is funny, amusing, or ludicrous."

Everyone has different perceptions and attitudes toward humor or jokes. Humor is similar to taste in food - what appeals to one person is appalling to another. It's important to know when to be serious and when to stop joking. Avoid using put-downs or offensive jokes, kidding, or teasing as a weapon to get attention or hurt people's feelings.

Developing a sense of humor is learning what it means to "think funny." To really enjoy humor, people must first be in a playful mood or frame of mind. If you don't laugh a lot, you might want to observe children's play or spend time with children which will help you develop your playful mood because children laugh so much and always seem to find things funny.

Having fun often means simply letting yourself be spontaneous, childlike or impulsive. Sometimes, however, it takes planning. For those individuals who have a hard time seeing the funny side of life, try some of these suggestions and put a little fun into your lives:

  • Laugh out loud or try to make someone else laugh at least ten times a day -- once an hour is even better.
  • Read your favorite funnies in the newspaper.
  • Occasionally, do something silly. For example, roller skate to a neighbor's house or wear an outrageous tie. A bit of foolishness is good for a laugh today, and in the future when you recall the incident.
  • Rent funny movies from a video store or borrow them from a library. Watch a classic comedy rerun on television.
  • Try to find the humor in predicaments as they happen.
  • Play with young children and let them make you laugh.

Parents who develop their sense of humor will enjoy family life more and will be less bothered by some of children's annoying behavior. In fact, they may be able to find something lighthearted and funny in many aspects of family life that previously bothered them
Anger, frustration and muscle tension are typical responses to stress. Finding the humorous side to life's irritating happenings may help you avoid these negative reactions. Take heed - laughter recharges the spirit!

Source: Theresa Stravic, C.H.E., Extension Educator, Rutgers University Cooperative Extension. Parent Pages was developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. HD 92


Anna Steinkraus
Family & Community Development Program Coordinator
(607) 272-2292 ext. 145

Last updated August 8, 2015