You’re watching your favourite comedy show from the 90s like ‘Friends’, ‘Seinfeld’, or ‘Hum Paanch’ and realise you’re not laughing alone. The simulated sounds of laughter in the background of the show tend to make you smile or laugh more often at the comedic punches. You’ve caught the best virus there is – the contagious laughing virus. And you don’t mind it at all.
Laughter, the best medicine
In these testing times of a contagious virus on the loose that threatens to impact our health negatively, we have to remember we still have a very strong weapon with us that can counter our chances of getting unwell. No, I’m not talking about turmeric milk or your steamer, though do keep them handy. I’m talking about your ability to laugh.
The origin of Laughter Day
It really astonished some researchers when people in the same environment and with similar genetic make-up lived till different ages and reported their satisfaction with life differently. The key factor, many research studies discovered, was laughter. The intensity and duration of laughter each day boosted a person’s well-being and outlook towards life.
Soon, many laughter clubs and movements were formed and people across the globe have been observing the first Sunday of the month of May as World Laughter Day.
Ever since its inception in 1998 in the spirited city of Mumbai, this day has been serving us as a reminder of the medicine that’s for free, generated by our minds, for the benefit of our mind and body!
Benefits of laughter
Now, I’ll try to make you see the act of laughter the way I see it as a psychologist and break down the benefits of laughing in terms of the thought process it serves, the emotions it evokes, the behaviours it elicits and the impact it has on your overall physiological and psychological wellbeing.
Can you recall what made you laugh recently? Was it a thought, an idea or was it seeing someone almost slip on soapwater comically? The processing of such an act or a statement is the work of our beautiful brain. Our brain thrives on comedy. And when I write thrive, I mean it actually generates feel-good brain chemicals, which also relieve pain.
Interestingly, laughter is less about humour and more about communicating as well as releasing tense emotions. We can actually catch laughter. The taped laughter in TV shows I mentioned earlier, actually invites you to participate. Often when you laugh with someone, you have a shared experience of empathy and understanding. Research has indicated that social laughter, that is sharing laughs with others, is even better than laughing alone. The endorphin release we have from social laughter leads to strengthening of social bonds between humans. We may even feel pleasurable and calming effects from the endorphin release. Now you know why you need to attend online live comedy acts being organised by your favourite clubs during this lockdown period.
Need to get rid of negative emotions? You can’t feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing. Try it! (Okay, unless it’s a very sad-funny meme, but still, you laughed and that lowered the sadness!)
Humans are social beings. That’s why this lockdown period of living extremely sedentary and physically asocial lives is impacting our sense of self. Touch. A single word with great impact, comes very close to its competitor – laughter. We can pacify our need for touch and stimulating social interactions by engaging in behaviours and acts that will bring a smile on our faces or on the ones around us, virtually or physically.
Laughter boosts T-cells which are specialised cells in our immune system. When activated, these cells fight off sickness. So, besides eating a spoon of chyawanprash, popping a multivitamin and drinking 8-11 glasses of water a day, also ensure you’re getting a good dose of laughter. Not only will your immunity be boosted, you’d also find it easier to tackle work, pesky family members/roommates, and you’d be exercising your face muscles and burning calories which you can totally count as a workout!
Divya Dureja is a Counselling Psychologist, 3 times TEDx speaker, Performance Poet and LGBTQIA+ Wellness Advocate.