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Have You Had a Good Belly Laugh Today?

Laughter engages the natural healing abilities of the body and nourishes the mind and soul. People love watching children especially babies enjoy a hearty belly laugh. A belly laugh is contagious, it is an invisible energy force capable of switching on and lighting up smiles and triggering belly laughs in others. Why, as we get older, do we begin stifling our blissful laughter? Somewhere along the way, we are made to feel it is not acceptable to enjoy a belly laugh in public, in workplaces or in certain social situations.

I recall a time in my public service career when a new Director was hired to lead our team. The outgoing Director was an individual who enjoyed laughter and valued the fact it was important to the team’s morale who were expected to work long periods of overtime, often without pay. His unique style of leadership was supportive, lighthearted and up-lifting. I, like many others, grew under his leadership. He understood the fact that to err was human and the best thing to do was admit errors and to learn, stretch and grow through them. He was a mentor and role model who expected people to:

  • Do a good day’s work
  • Reach out to help another when the need arises
  • When problems were detected, offer potential solutions
  • Have a little bit of fun in the process

The replacement Director, known as being one hard worker, possessed a great capacity to squash laughter in the workplace. With one fleeting glance or a few quick words, she effectively managed to wipe the smiles clean off our faces. Our high pressure, high stressed, high demand workplace changed overnight from a playful, energetic, collaborative work environment that was focused and highly productive to one that quickly became suppressed. Each person was expected to function as an island.

The nature of our work required consultation and collaboration not isolation. Clock watching and crashing team huddles was part of the micro-management strategy which was successful in morale busting. Story telling and laughter became a thing of the past. Folks were made to feel the wrath of one who was known to judge harshly. If caught laughing or gathering in a group, the micro-manager (referring to such behaviour as leadership is simply wrong) would pop up out of no where. The result, team spirit destroyed, energy levels depleted and performance negatively impacted. I refer to this particular time in my career as being the time laughter stopped in our workplace.

Lesson Learned:  When laughter disappears joy gradually disintegrates along with it.

Belly Laughs – the mind, body and soul at play. – Daphne MacNeil

Laughter: Mind and Brain

 The mind versus brain discussion dates back to  Plato (437-347) and his student Aristotle (384-322). Things of the mind are referred to as being mental, emotional, intellectual, inner, rational, irrational, conscious, subconscious and cognitive.

According to the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association  the psychological benefits of laughter include:

  • Relaxation
  • Restful Sleep
  • Counteract Depressive Features
  • Reduce Anxiety
  • Counteract Psychosomatic Problems
  • Improves Your Cognition
  • Encourages Creativity
  • Improves Mood
  • Change Your Facial Expression – Features
  • Builds Rapport With Others
  • Improves Brain Function
  • Relieves Stress
  • Releases Negative Feelings and Emotions
  • Increases Your Social Attraction
  • Amplifies Resiliency
  • Improves Memory and Alertness

Renee Cobb, founder and president of Speakers and Training Services in Henrico County once said, “The brain can’t do two things at once. It can’t be sad and laugh at the same time. We use the same muscles to belly laugh that we use to cry. A belly laugh brings more oxygen to the blood, and it can reduce anxiety.” Cobb’s tells a story of her 3-year-old granddaughter who was in the basement with her family during a tornado warning.  The little one asked “Why are we sitting down here hiding from a ‘tomato’?” Precious words from the mouth of babes. Her mother’s laugh lessened the tension. “Laughter helps us to step back and see things more objectively,” Cobb says.

“Endorphins help relieve pain when you laugh,” says Jodi J. De Luca, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Boulder Community Hospital. Laughter helps resolve “all types of pain, not just physical pain, but emotional and psychological pain as well.”

Brain

A good laugh begins with a smile. Did you know that each time you smile it entices the brain to do a happy dance. Smiling triggers the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress (1). Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate to our bodies how we are feeling; happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited etc.. The feel good neurotransmitters, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when we smile which helps to reduce stress and control our heart rate (2). This not only relaxes your body, but it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

Copyright © 2016 Daphne MacNeil

Mummers on the Move in Notre Dame Bay, Newfoundland

Finally, the serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as an anti-depressant/mood lifter (3). Many of today’s pharmaceutical anti-depressants also influence the levels of serotonin in your brain, but with a smile, you again don’t have to worry about negative side effects – and you don’t need a prescription from your doctor. Endorphins act as natural pain relievers – 100% organically and without the potential negative side effects of synthetic concoctions (4).

University of Maryland’s School of Medicine and Director of Preventive Cardiology, Dr. Michael Miller M.D. and I would like to see more adults laughing, especially in workplaces. In 2000, Dr. Miller conducted a study that included people with heart disease and people of the same age without heart disease. The people with heart disease were 40 percent ‘less’ likely than those without heart disease to laugh in a variety of situations.  He notes that the ability to laugh either naturally or as a learned behaviour may have important implications in societies where heart disease is a major concern.

Heart disease remains the number one killer in Canada (and in my home province – Newfoundland and Labrador) and is the most costly disease to treat. The following helps to reduce thr risk of heart disease:

  • exercising
  • not smoking
  • eating a variety of foods low in saturated fat
  • avoiding fad diets
  • having regular check-ups

Dr. Miller notes that, “Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list.

According to Dr. Miller, thirty minutes of exercise three times a week and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system. Miller noted that it has the same effect as prescribed medications, such as statins, which are used to lower cholesterol, and ACE inhibitors, used to control high blood pressure.

Laughter and the Body

I love a good belly laugh!  Who doesn’t? It simply lights up our lives and our environments. Our lungs, cardiovascular system, immune system and brain all receive a boost of health and wellness when we have one good belly laugh.

Laughter and the Lungs

Dr. Michael Miller also stated “laughter results in greater than average expulsion of the residual air in our lungs and then adds a fresh supply of oxygen that enriches our blood to nourish our heart, brain, and body tissues.” According to the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association laughter increases oxygen levels and improves respiration.

Laughter and the Heart

Laughter is good for the heart. In 2005, a University of Maryland’s School of Medicine study revealed that blood flow increased after people laughed, similar to the benefits of aerobic activity. By using laughter-provoking and dramatic movies and an ultrasound researchers were able to gauge the effect of emotions on cardiovascular health, researchers have shown for the first time that laughter is linked to healthy function of blood vessels. Laughter appears to cause the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels, the endothelium, to dilate or expand in order to increase blood flow.  Why do we want flexible arteries? Increased stiffness can lead to hardened arteries, which ups the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. “Laughter practiced as part of a healthy lifestyle may help to slow aging of our blood vessels,” says Dr. Miller, author of the book Heal Your Heart.

Laughter and the Immune System

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. – Thich Nhat Hanh

Laughter also gives our immune system a boost. “Laughter is associated with an increased production of cells (predominantly B and T cells) that help to ward off infection,” says Dr. Miller. Have you ever been tickled to the point where you roar with laughter and had to beg for them to stop? If so, you may owe your ticklers a hardy ‘thank you’. Have you laughed so hard you actually peed in your pants?Science has confirmed that in addition to the obvious muscles seizing up from laughter, there are others that become more relaxed and less coordinated – there’s some truth to becoming “weak with laughter.”

At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities. – Jean Houston

Laughter: Tools for Life

Dr. Miller recommends if you feel stressed then laugh.  Sharing a few easy but valuable tools to add to your toolbox for life:

  1. Simply Laugh and Smile Often – Fake it ’til you make it if you have to. Our brains do not know the difference between fake and real smiles. Like adopting any new habit, the more often you smile, the more likely smiling will become a natural, feel good, habit.
  2. Spend Time with Positive People – Surround yourself with fun-loving and optomistic people. Laughter is contagious and their behaviour is the type that will lift your spirits.
  3. Accountability Partners – Finding a “You Make Me Laugh” accountability partner with whom you can check in with on a regular basis to provide an update on how you are doing with adding more laughter, smiles and happiness in your day is a fun way to brighen and lighten up your day. Share funny experiences, include the embarrassing ones too. Witnessing someone laugh at themselves can offer up some of the most funniest moments.
  4. Watching funny TV Shows (This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Modern Family, Big Bang Theory), Movies (My Cousin Vinny, The Hangover, Anchorman, Tootsie, Bridesmaids, There’s Something About Mary, Some Like It Hot, Annie Hall, Airplane!, Ground Hog Day, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Producers) and shows (Buddywasisname and the Other Fellers). By conscioulsy choosing to avoid negative media, you are taking preventative action to ensure you feel more lighthearted and happy; smile more and worry less.
  5. Play with a child or a pet.
  6. Host game nights with neighbors, family, friends or colleagues (Charades, Balderdash, Pie Face, Speak Out, Watch Ya Mouth)
  7. Celebrate Fun Days – World Laughter Day – 1st Sunday in May (May 7, 2017), April Fool’s Day (April 1) and St. Patrick’s Day, Create Your Own Fun Day!
  8. Bring Laughter to Your Workplace in a Respectful Way – Host Dialogues on Diversity; create space to share funny stories, learn and laugh. Some of my personal favorites I referred to over the past that were able to tickle a few funny bones included:

Bring laughter back into your workplace.The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter. – Mark Twain

My wish for one and all is that you live, learn, love and laugh a little more each and every day.

By:

Daphne MacNeil

Leaders and Life Strategist and In-Leaders™ Coach

  1. Seaward BL. Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett; 2009:258
  2. R.D. (2000). Neural correlates of conscious emotional experience. In R.D. Lane & L. Nadel (Eds.), Cognitive neuroscience of emotion (pp. 345–370). New York: Oxford University Press.
  3. Karren KJ, et al. Mind/Body Health: The Effect of Attitudes, Emotions and Relationships. New York, N.Y.: Benjamin Cummings, 2010:461.
  4. R.D. (2000). Neural correlates of conscious emotional experience. In R.D. Lane & L. Nadel (Eds.), Cognitive neuroscience of emotion (pp. 345–370). New York: Oxford University Press.Heart

Copyright © 2016 Daphne MacNeil

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