Laughter.

Jeff Haden, in a 2020 Inc. Magazine article, suggested that, in times of uncertainty, we can regain our sense of purpose and direction by remembering the best compliment we’ve ever received.  Not the grandest compliment, but “the compliment that spoke to a deeper meaning about who you try to be, what you try to do. One that has stuck with you because it went beyond the (however exceptional) superficial to strike a genuine chord inside. That compliment reveals what truly matters to you — and what you need, especially in turbulent times, to stay focused on.”

I received one such compliment recently.  My stepdaughter texted this photo of her 7-year-old daughter’s homework, which was a response to the prompt, “Who is the funniest person you know?”  Her answer made my day! 

I am most proud of my ability to make people laugh.  Perhaps it stems from my chaotic upbringing at the hands of a mother with borderline personality disorder.  My mother was one of the 4.2% of Americans living with severe mental illness that affected her parenting and my welfare.  For children who grow up in the care of a mentally ill parent, life is often filled with anxiety, uncertainty, and vigilance (Mehta, 2017). It is not unusual for their needs to be neglected.  It was my uncanny ability to bring laughter to often difficult situations that allowed me to survive.  Indeed, laughter became my “medicine” as I endured the terrifying emotional distress and chronic negativity of the adults around me. 

Evidence from science lends credibility to the notion that laughter is the best medicine.  DiSalvo (2017) understood that “laughter is one of the best tools we have for dealing with stress,” and, “in fact, research into laughter goes even further, revealing that it’s a potent drug with the contagious power of a virus that conveys a slew of benefits for the mind and body.” 

A 2017 study in the Journal of Neuroscience (Manninen et al.) found that pain thresholds of patients in a controlled experiment were elevated significantly in both male and female volunteers after watching laughter-inducing comedy.  Viewing comedy clips successfully elicited group laughter, increasing endogenous opioid release and positive mood, similar to that of pharmaceutical antidepressants and post-operative pain medications.  I’m not advocating for the avoidance of any necessary medication (I’m a doctor, but not THAT kind of doctor!), however, I am “prescribing” a bit of laughter for your health.

Scientists believe that laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts overall mood, diminishes pain, and protects you from the damaging effects of stress. In fact, few things work faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor appears to lighten your burdens, inspire hope, and connect you to others.  It also helps you release anger and forgive sooner.

With so much healing power, laughter is a tremendous resource for surmounting problems, enhancing your relationships, and supporting your physical and emotional health. To know that my granddaughter thinks of me as one of funniest people she knows convinces me that laughter is, indeed, the best medicine!