It’s well-known that laughter is a great stress-reliever, and a regular dose of hysterics can do us the world of good. But what happens when we’re feeling low and struggle to find the ‘funny’ side?
In the words of philosopher and psychologist William James: “We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we are happy because we laugh.” As he observed more than a century ago, laughter makes us feel good. And today, we’re still exploring the many health benefits and embracing concepts such as laughter yoga and laughter therapy.
Laughter prompts a plethora of physical and emotional changes in the body. It triggers our bodies to release the ‘happy chemicals’ dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins – so we’re literally flooded with positive emotions. At the same time, it reduces stress levels and creates a relaxation response. We take in more oxygen which stimulates our internal organs, strengthening our immune system, and it even increases our tolerance to pain – the internal shift is palpable. In fact, merely anticipating laughter can jump-start some of the positive changes in the body, so it’s no wonder we turn to humour as a coping mechanism.
Psychologist and hypnotherapist Lesley Lyle says: “One of the main functions of laughter is that it relieves stress, which explains why some people instinctively laugh when hearing bad news.”
And it’s used effectively in therapy sessions, too. “Clients who have low mood or depression find it therapeutic to engage with these positive emotions during hypnotherapy sessions, particularly when they struggle to do so in everyday life.”
So, how can we reap these amazing benefits, and bring more humour into our lives?
1. Make a commitment to laugh more
It might feel strange ‘deciding’ to laugh more (isn’t laughter spontaneous?), but to change any aspect of our lives requires a shift in our thoughts, desires, and beliefs. Make the conscious decision to laugh more and picture the outcome – a life filled with fun, frivolity and playfulness. You’ll find that your inner child comes out to play more often, and space for laughter will emerge. Lesley says: “This can be done in numerous ways, such as being with certain friends, watching funny films, or playing with friends/children/pets. Laughter can also be scheduled by participating in laughter yoga sessions, where laughter is purposefully induced through specific group exercises.”
2. Know your go-to sources of laughter
Whether you turn to slapstick comedy, dad jokes, or your pet’s playful antics, make a list of what really makes you laugh – and start banking them! Save funny videos on YouTube, compile a list of comedy films you can’t get enough of, and record your favourite stand-up. You can even create a ‘humour jar’ – fill it with jokes or comic strip clippings that make you chuckle. By creating your own laughter first-aid kit, tailored specifically to your humour, you’ll have something to turn to on those difficult days.
3. Make time for play
Plan in playtime alongside your other responsibilities, and stick to it. Schedule time to catch up with friends, arrange a comedy night, and join that weekly laughter yoga group. Treat it like a doctor’s appointment – even when you don’t feel like doing it, you know it’s going to make you feel better. Plus, how often have you laughed at something and then found yourself in a lighter, giggly mood where everything is funny? Make a date with humour and see where it goes.
Reflecting on the things that brought a smile to our faces is a wonderful way to relive those moments
4. Let your ‘silly’ out
If you find it difficult to connect with your goofy side, try to bring playfulness into your life little by little. Spending time with the kids in your life can be great inspiration – you’ll quickly find your own inner child delighting at care-free play.
Roll down a hill, see how many marshmallows you can get in your mouth, or bounce on a trampoline. Say yes to the next fancy-dress invitation, and challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. Goofiness is not just for kids!
5. Keep a laughter journal
Reflecting on the things that brought a smile to our faces is a wonderful way to relive those moments. The very memory of something that made us laugh can make us laugh again! Get yourself a pocket-size notebook, and start jotting down every time you laugh. Read the journal each night and reflect on all that positivity permeating your life.
6. Help others to laugh
Lifting other people’s spirits is the quickest way to lift your own. And you really don’t need to be a comedian to get people giggling. Creating an environment for fun and laughter is often enough to bring out the jovial side in people. So try to be the initiator of fun: suggest a family board game, recall that great anecdote or memory together, act the fool. Your willingness to look on the playful side of life will remind those around you that it’s OK to find humour in all situations.
And it’s always worth gaining some perspective, and remembering that life on this Earth is as deeply profound as it is absolute nonsense. We all go about our lives doing the daftest of things. Step back and see the ridiculousness in it all. Welcome the humour in being imperfectly, awkwardly, human.