Wouldn’t it be nice if laughter truly was the best medicine, and doctors could prescribe a regimen of silly movies and maybe some knock-knock jokes? The idea might not be all that far-fetched, according to the team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care.
While trying to tackle major illness on happy thoughts alone might not be the wisest course of action, medically speaking, there is also growing evidence that laughter does amazing things to boost one’s physical and mental states.
Even hospice patients are encouraged to find ways to laugh, find happy memories and enjoy present moments when they can. The terminal prognosis might still be unchanged, but encouraging a patient to enjoy a good laugh can help combat symptoms of depression, reduce stress and really improve their quality of life. Since laughter can be contagious, having a good time can also lighten the moods of loved ones around them as well. If the laughter can provide someone with bonus valuable time, even better for all.
While there have been more anecdotes and individual cases vs. formal studies or widespread trials into laughter or “happy pills,” the topic has actually sees value in different areas of medicine, so much so that the National Institutes of Health has even talked about “Laughter Prescriptions,” with the conclusion “Pending evidence to the contrary, go out and do it!”
A related look at laughter at WebMD reached similar conclusions – “we don’t completely know why laughter works but it does, so do more of it!”
The NIH also encourages people to go out and find opportunities to laugh, whether it’s joining laugh clubs (they’re real!), or a laughter-focused yoga class (they’re also real!). Even someone with low energy, physical restrictions or a weak immune system can benefit from watching a funny movie.
Why laughter is the best
No matter your health condition, there’s a long list of how laughter can help. Like many things, more is better: giggling and smiling slightly is a lovely start, but maximum benefits can come from those sorts of larger belly laughs that can bring tears to your eyes.
- Laughter’s benefits can include:
- It makes endorphins. Also known as nature’s own pain killers, these come out when we exercise – which can take the form of chuckling mirthfully. These also activate the pleasure center of the brain.
- It releases other helpful chemicals, including hormones cortisol, ephedrine and norephedrine. These are all connected to stress.
- It can increase blood flow, which can lower blood pressure, and boost your heart and cardiovascular system.
- It can “exercise” the whole body, starting with the abdominal muscles. One study even estimated that solid laughter can burn about 10-15 calories an hour.
- It stimulates tear ducts, the same way crying has physical and emotional value.
- It strengthens the immune system by encouraging the body to make more white blood cells.
- It improves sleep. The all-over relief from a good laugh session is said to be a good way to combat insomnia.
- It boosts creativity. Research has shown that feeling good or even finding a topic funny can spur better brainstorming abilities or at least allows someone to solve problems better.
- Laughter can also stimulate both sides of the brain, giving a needed power surge to the right and left sides.
- It improves socialization. There’s not much better than sharing a joke with someone, and most people likely would spend time with someone with a big grin vs. a scowl.
No laughing, sometimes
Of course, there are conditions or circumstances where laughter may not really be what the doctor ordered. Someone who has had recent abdominal surgery, for instance, may feel physical pain if forced to laugh hard.
Some may also equate laughter with clowning, something that can cause anger or fear, rather than humor.
Humor is also relative: while one person may love slapstick and similar physical comedy, another person may find it less funny. The same is true with other styles, from “situational comedy,” like “Seinfeld” to British-style humor like “Monty Python.” So if you’re trying to cheer someone up, learn what topic makes them laugh the most and what they consider the least funny.
Political humor can also be risky, which comes down to knowing your audience. While you and your pals may laugh about the folly of local or national leaders, the person you’re trying to cheer up may have different opinions and fail to find the humor.
There are also good and bad times to try to push for a joke, and sometimes attempts at humor can fall flat if someone isn’t feeling good physically or emotionally. So if you’re planning to try to encourage someone to laugh harder and better, either let the humor come naturally or check with a nurse, caregiver or provider about their current mood or appropriate times for cheering up.
Sometimes even you being there sharing funny memories, watching a movie or reading something amusing together can be more satisfying than forced jokes.
Find the lighter side
In a hospice environment, there can be a fine line between being respectful and serious vs. trying to make someone’s remaining time upbeat and not dreary or morose. The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care is, of course, guided by the patient’s attitude. But we also look for ways to brighten their days when possible. Everyone can use more laughter — let us know how we can help!