The Hidden Power of Laughter
By Sandi Schwartz
As adults, we tend to get bogged down with our to do lists and stresses of daily life and forget how beautiful it is to let loose and have a good laugh. Unfortunately, most adults do not laugh enough. In fact, one study found that healthy children may laugh as much as 400 times per day, but adults only laugh 15 times per day.
If we stop for a moment and observe our children, they are probably laughing and playing freely without the weight of the world on their shoulders. We can learn so much from them when it comes to being lighthearted. It is so important to raise our kids in such a way that they will continue to experience fun and laughter throughout their lives. We can create a positive environment for them to grow up by stopping once in a while to have a laughing fit together.
Why is Laughter So Important?
Science shows us laughter really is like medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughing is one of the easiest ways to reduce stress and anxiety in our lives. Laughing transforms our body and mind in so many amazing ways, boosting positive emotions like happiness, peace, and humor.
When we laugh, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of our brain is activated. This releases feel-good hormones called endorphins that allow us to experience pleasure and satisfaction. Laughing also reduced our stress response because the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and dopamine are lowered. We feel energized since we take in more oxygen-rich air when we laugh. Finally, laughing relaxes our muscles, which soothes tension from stress. In fact, a good laugh can leave your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes afterwards.
The muscles that help us smile also affect how we feel. When we use these muscles, we trigger the part of our brain that improves mood. One particular research study involved having participants hold a pencil in one of three ways in order to get them to make certain facial expressions without telling them exactly what they were doing. The first group held the pencil sideways in their mouths to force a smile. The second group stuck the pencil in lengthwise to force a frown. The last group, serving as the control group, held the pencil in their hands. Participants were then asked to watch cartoons and rate how funny they were. The group with the sideways pencils (the “smiling” group) had higher funny ratings than the lengthwise group (the “frowning” group). The control group scored somewhere between the other two groups. This study showed how smiling and laughing can really make a difference in how we perceive the world around us.
Researchers also found that facial expressions can reduce negative feelings like pain and sadness. In one study, researchers applied an uncomfortable level of heat to subjects’ arms, then asked them to make either a relaxed face, an uncomfortable face, or a neutral face. The results showed the group who made a relaxed face experienced less pain than those who made an uncomfortable or neutral face. This happens because smiling releases endorphins and serotonin, which are thought to minimize any pain we feel.
Laughter is also beneficial because it changes how we look at a situation. A silly moment can offer a healthy distraction from negative emotions like anger, guilt, and stress. It sure is hard to feel negatively when you are cracking up! It also gives us a more lighthearted perspective when faced with challenges and helps us view such events as positive opportunities as opposed to threats.
Next, laughter builds resilience, the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress. When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious, more adaptable, and more able to obtain happiness and success. Additionally, resilience can help cushion us from mental health conditions like anxiety and depression because it improves our ability to cope, according to Mayo Clinic. Laughter plays a huge role in how we handle adversity by allowing us to escape from our problems for a little while. By teaching our kids to laugh even in times of pain, we are giving them a key tool that will help them be more resilient as they grow older.
Laughing with our kids is so special because it builds bonds with them. These joyous moments create a more uplifting environment and what’s really fun is, laughter tends to be contagious; so, before you know it the whole house could be giggling up a storm. Finally, the best part of laughing is it’s completely free and always accessible, without any side effects (except for maybe a few aches on your side from laughing so hard).
So, how can we laugh more with our kids? Here are 10 ideas to get you rolling (on the floor)…Start a laughing contest to see who can make the other person laugh first.
· Play fun games like charades, Twister, Pictionary, and Headbanz.
· Read joke books and websites, and then share your favorites with each other.
· Create funny stories using Mad Libs or whisper down the lane.
· Have a family talent show and see who comes up with the funniest routine.
· Dress up in silly costumes.
· Watch a comedy television show or movie together as a family.
· Talk in a silly language like pig Latin.
· Keep a collection of funny quotes and pictures that you can bring out at anytime to get everyone laughing.
· Try laughter yoga with your kids. Created by Dr. Madan Katari in 1995 in Bombay, India, this yoga practice combines breathing exercises, yoga, stretching, and laughing.
Sandi Schwartz is a freelance writer/blogger and mother of two. She has written extensively about parenting, wellness, and environmental issues. You can find her at www.happysciencemom.com. Get her free course on raising happy, balanced kids at bit.ly/2i53TDV