August 29, 2018
Fellow students, acupuncturists, and health enthusiasts: I have one question for you, when was the last time that you laughed? I don’t mean the respectful chuckle you show your boss, or the polite giggle offered to strangers in conversation. I mean knee slapping, gut clenching, tear-jerking laughter that takes physical resistance to be held back. If the last time you remember such a guffaw is childhood, I encourage you to incorporate laughter into your daily routine. The health benefits are immense and it’s truly one of the most satisfying expressions of emotion a person can feel!
Laughter may appear to be a cause and effect phenomenon. First comes the happy or funny event, and then a smile or laugh follows. However, the “Facial-Feedback Hypothesis”, a long-held theory put forth by Charles Darwin states that the outward expression of an emotion such as laughing or smiling, intensifies the feeling. According to Darwin’s theory, even the simulation of the expression alone will arouse the feeling in our minds. On the other end of this theory, suppressing laughter by frowning for example, will lessen the humor being felt (Darwin, 1872). In short, if you can simulate the physical expressions of laughter, the same feel-good signals will be sent to the brain. The brain does not distinguish between fake or real laughter. This means that a person can receive the same effects from fake laughter as they can from spontaneous or real laughter (Weil, 2011).
Building on this idea of fake laughter having positive benefits, is Laughter yoga. Established by Dr. Madan Kataria, Laughter Yoga relies not on humor, but on laughter exercises designed solely for reaping the benefits of laughing. The therapy involves movement, breathing, and lots of staged laughter, in a group, which in practice becomes wildly contagious and very real! Attending a Laughter Yoga session is a huge mood boost, building a sense of community, and overall joy. Interested in finding a club? If you’re in the Bay Area, there are clubs in San Francisco and Sacramento that are free and open to the public. Check out this link if you want to learn more: https://laughteryoga.org/.
A meta-analysis on the effects of laughter on the body was conducted by Ramon Mora-Ripoll in 2011. The paper highlighted the extensive physiological and psychological impacts of laughter below:
- Exercises and relaxes muscles
- Improves respiration
- Stimulates circulation
- Decreases stress hormones
- Increases immune system defense
- Elevates pain threshold and tolerance
- Enhances mental functioning
- Reduces stress, anxiety, and tension
- Elevates mood, self-esteem, energy, and vigor
- Enhances memory, creativity, and problem-solving
- Improves interpersonal interaction, relationships, attraction, & closeness
- Increases friendliness, helpfulness, builds group identity, solidarity, and cohesiveness
- Promotes psychological well-being
- Improves quality of life & patient care
- Intensifies mirth and is contagious
Most people will never argue the beneficial effects of physical exercise on overall well-being. As shown in the lists above, laughter exhibits many of those same effects on both the body and mind and serves a purpose that should not be overlooked!
I urge you not to wait for a purpose to laugh but instead to laugh for a purpose. Today is the day to let go of past grievances and things that make your heart heavy; it’s truly as simple as you make it. Start with a laugh to lift your spirit. Watch a silly movie, reminisce with friends about the good old days, or simply talk to your local, neighborhood five-year-old and surely you will remember what it’s like to experience innocent, pure-hearted joy for life.
As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul. — Jewish Proverb
I’m a SoCal native with a love for sun, swimming, and street tacos. Public health is my background and acupuncture is my calling. I’m currently a candidate for the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Master’s degree at AIMC and am thrilled to soon be able to better serve my community. The journey to mind, body, and spirit healing is an adventure that I am nothing but honored to be embarking upon.
Mora-Ripoll, R. (2011). Potential health benefits of simulated laughter: A narrative review of the literature and recommendations for future research. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 19(3), 170-177.
Weil, A. (2011). Spontaneous happiness (pp. 292-296). Hachette UK.
Charles, D., Paul, E., & Phillip, P. (1872). The expression of the emotions in man and animals (p. 366). Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library.
Official Laughter Yoga website: https://laughteryoga.org/