How humour can help you heal your body and stay healthy

Laughter is the easiest way to reduce stress and relax your body. Here are ways you can develop your humour muscle

mother and daughter laughing together, humour

We all are aware of the stress response, the “fight or flight syndrome.” The physiological changes that occur when we are under stress provide the body with the instant energy it needs to move quickly to fight or run, as our ancestors did for survival. Today we experience these same results, but we do not usually have the options of running or fighting. It’s a fact that negative emotions and emotional reactions to the negative things that happen to us cause harmful physical effects. Stress causes physiological effects: heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, stomach acids increase, the ability to digest food decreases, muscle tension increases, the ability to tolerate pain decreases, the oxygen in the blood decreases, breathing becomes shallower…your personality becomes shallower, your chances of winning the lottery decreases… it’s just a terrible mess all around! Constant stress can cause negative reactions, such as lowering our resistance to disease or infections. The negative effects can happen whenever we have negative thoughts and feelings. Our minds are very powerful. People have had heart attacks just by working themselves up into a frenzy of negative, fearful or angry thoughts. Any perceived threat can initiate the stress response. This can range from someone screaming in your face to having to speak in front of a group. There is a powerful relationship between how you perceive what is happening to you [the threat] and what is going on biochemically in your body.

Laughter is the antidote to the stress response

Research shows that people who laugh heartily on a regular basis have lower standing blood pressures than the average population. When we have a hearty laugh, our blood pressure initially increases and then decreases below normal levels. Our breathing becomes deeper, sending oxygen-enriched blood and nutrients throughout the body. With laughter, endorphins and other natural pain-relieving hormones are released, improving our ability to tolerate pain. Our ability to digest food also improves. So you are not only what you eat, but what you think and feel. Research indicates that the benefits of laughter occur as early as a smile.

How can we bring more smiles and laughter into our lives?

Make a joy list

Joel Goodman, Founder and Director of the Humor Project in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. suggests making a joy list: Put down five things you love to do, but have not done in a long time. This could be resuming former hobbies or contacting/meeting people whom you have not seen in a while. Choose two things on that list that you plan to do and write down a date and time when you will do the activities.

Create a humour library

Collect humorous memos, bumper stickers, books, movies and TV shows. The internet is packed with humorous focused websites and videos. Next time you are feeling a little down, read, listen and view.

Spend more time with folks who are fun to be with

Make a commitment to spending more time with those that are fun to be around. Think about someone whom you consider fun to be around. What makes that person attractive? Along with mental alertness and positive attitude, a large part of your answer will lie in them having a great send of humour and a sense of playfulness. Humour is an excellent tool to use on your path in life. Approaching life’s aggravations with humour has fewer harmful side effects, for humour can release feelings of hostility and at the same time provide an acceptable means of expressing and decompressing these feelings in an appropriate way.

Get to know what amuses you

Who are your favourite comedians? What types of humour do you like? For some it’s political humour… “When two politicians accuse each other of lying… they’re both telling the truth”, others like nonsense … “What does a 300 pound canary say?… CHURP!!!”, still others like philosophical humour … “I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I’m bringing a spare pair of underwear just in case.” Put on your humour filtered glasses and you are more likely to notice humorous occurrences that would have passed you by otherwise.

Become comfortable with appearing goofy

Overcome your “fear of foolishness.” C.W. Metcalf and Roma Felible authors of Lighten Up: Survival Skills for People Under Pressure, suggests that when an embarrassing moment happens to you, choose to see it as a humorous incident. This will prevent the negative physiological effects that will occur if you view the event as a life threat [“I was so embarrassed I wish I were dead”]. Take the risk of sharing the incident with others and nine out of ten times they will see the humour and thank you for sharing it.

Checkout the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. They actually have a Humour Academy. A three year course to become a Certified Humour Professional. Yes, I’m a C.H.P. and proud of it!

Humour is the healthiest coping mechanism you can use to deal with the absurdities of life. I used humour to literally get back on my feet after a diagnosis of severe arthritis. If you lose hope and are taken over by fear, you become helpless. If you use humour and focus on a positive outlook you can get through anything. You can learn to use humour like Judo, fending off attacks from a different angle. When the arthritis attacked, humour was my defense.

Remember, if something is thrown at you and you meet it straight on, you will fall backward. This is true for any ‘problem’ that attacks you. If you have a good sense of humour you can slide to the side and look at it from a different perspective. Humour is not a cure-all, but the positive emotions brought on by humour and a good laugh can have a positive effect on your overall wellness.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

David Jacobson
David M. Jacobson, LCSW, is owner of, his professional speaking business. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humour; an organisation that consists of humour enthusiasts. David has received many awards, including the PBAA Jim Elliot Award for unicycling 50 miles in the El Tour de Tucson in spite of severe arthritis. His purpose is sharing how humour can make the world a better place for all.


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