When was the last time you laughed? Not just a half-hearted chuckle or a nervous giggle, but a real gut-busting laugh full of joy. This may seem like such a simple question. However, the answer has a number of important implications.
The experience of laughter has a myriad of health benefits. For those who find that the memory of laughter is easily accessible, you can probably hazard some guesses as to why. You might consider that laughing feels good, can help us feel connected to others, and might act as an indication that things are on track for you. At a physical level, laughter can decrease stress hormones while boosting levels of endorphins and the human growth hormone (which can both act as helpful regulators for the body’s immune system) (Berk et al., 1989).
If the answer to the initial question came to you right away, that is wonderful. Use this as an invitation to savor that memory! Do you have a minute to spare? If you do, take a mindful minute to flesh out the memory for yourself. Mindfulness studies have shown that reflecting on positive experiences and spending time feeling grateful for them can set the bedrock for people to feel happier and better about their lives (E.g., Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
Ready? Take a deep breath, clear your head, and bring yourself back to that funny moment. Take a moment to reflect on the following questions. Feel free to pause at any prompt that makes you feel good:
- Where were you? Consider aspects of the situation such as what was around you, what did the space look like, what time of day, etc…
- Who were you with? What was their reaction?
- What about the situation made the corners of your mouth turn up? What about it made you grin and chuckle or bust out a belly laugh?
- How did it feel in your body? Where did you feel it? How big was the feeling?
- How did this experience impact the rest of your day? If you were with someone else, how did it colour your interaction with them?
- If you were to give the feeling a name, what would you give it?
- How do you feel right now, thinking back on it?
To others reading this, you may feel that the answer is very distant or even impossible. You might not be able to remember the last time you found yourself laughing. Please be gentle with yourself, if this is the case. Without knowing you, or your personal circumstances, the following is just one of many interventions for dealing with a blue mood. Know that there are many tools and approaches available if this isn’t the one for you!
One thing to try is the “fake it until you make it” intervention. Here are three ways to do this:
- Watch a funny movie, read a funny comic strip, or take just a little time to find and experience something you think you might find amusing (watching funny cat youtube videos or finding a funny meme counts!). Doing so has been shown to help to reduce feelings of anxiety (Ford et al., 2012).
- Watch someone else smiling. This can have a positive impact at a physiological level. By simply perceiving someone else smiling you can experience a release of dopamine (Depue & Morrone-Strupinsky, 2005).
- Smile. Really. You can fire connections in your brain towards and reduce stress arousal by simply turning up the corners of your mouth (Frederickson & Levenson, 1998).
Ultimately, something as simple and natural as laughter is an important measure for health. If you are lucky enough to laugh often, cherish this. If you find laughter is hard to come by, know that there are many ways to get your smiles back.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This article is intended for general use. It is not intended to provide specific recommendations for your situation. If you or someone you love are suffering, please reach out for support from a licensed health professional, access community support such as calling the Alberta Health Services mental health line (1-877-303-2642), the mental health crisis line through HealthLine (1-888-737-4668), or contacting the distress centre at (403) 266-1601. If you need urgent help and are afraid for your own or someone else’s safety, call 911 or go to your nearest hospital.
Berk, L.S., et. al. (1989). Neuroendocrine and Stress Hormone Changes During Mirthful Laughter. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 298 (6), 390-396. doi:10.1097/00000441-198912000-00006
Depue, R., & Morrone-Strupinsky, J. (2005). A neurobehavioral model of affiliative bonding: implications for conceptualizing a human trait of affiliation. The Behavioral and brain sciences, 28 3, 313-50; discussion 350-95 .
Emmons, R., & McCullough, M. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.
Ford, T. E., Ford, B. L., Boxer, C. F., & Armstrong, J. (2012). Effect of humor on state anxiety and math performance. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 25(1), 59–74. https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2012-0004
Fredrickson, B. L., & Levenson, R. W. (1998). Positive Emotions Speed Recovery from the Cardiovascular Sequelae of Negative Emotions. Cognition & emotion, 12(2), 191–220. https://doi.org/10.1080/026999398379718