Lighten Up: The Healing Power of Laughter

01/17/2012 Mind-Body Health Healing Wisdom Yoga

The healing system of Ayurveda teaches us that nourishing our five senses enlivens our health and well-being. I have found that it’s just as important to cultivate our sixth sense . . . our sense of humor.

We’ve all found ourselves facing difficult circumstances, mired in worry.  When a good friend calls and has us laughing at ourselves, we’re reminded that there is more than one way to view a situation.

The very experience of laughter shifts our perspective and opens us to new possibilities. We feel internally tickled as we make a connection between the predictable way of looking at a situation and an offbeat way.

Laughter allows us to temporarily step outside our space- and time-bound state and touch the field of awareness that is boundless and eternal. The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Humor is a prelude to faith and laughter is the beginning of prayer.”

Laughter as Medicine

From the scientific perspective, laughter is an elegant mind-body phenomenon that reduces the production of stress hormones, boosts the immune system. Researchers in Japan found that people with rheumatoid arthritis who watched “rakugo” or comic storytelling experienced a significant decrease in their pain and stress hormone levels as well as an increase in two immune-enhancing chemicals. Humor can decrease anxiety, soften anger, lighten depression, and increase our pain tolerance.

Of course, discussing the value of laughter is about as fulfilling as talking about eating a delicious meal or making love. The benefit is not in the description but in the experience, so I encourage you to let yourself get carried away with laughter. Look for humor in life and give yourself permission to laugh out loud when something tickles your funny bone. When I was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, I asked people to post their favorite jokes and funny stories. The collection has been growing, and I invite you to take a humor break there right now and whenever you need to “lighten up.”

Here are a few more suggestions:

  • Make funny faces with your family and friends.
  • Watch comedy films by the Marx Brothers.
  • Visit a park and watch children and dogs playing.
  • Read joke books.
  • Spend time with fun, playful people. Laughter is contagious!
  • Share your embarrassing stories.
  • Host a game night with friends.
  • Share your favorite joke
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Play a practical joke on a friend (who has a sense of humor).
  • Twirl a hula hoop.
  • Try Laughter Yoga.
  • Start a pillow fight.
  • Join or visit a laughter club.

Be creative and give yourself permission to commit acts of silliness, irresponsibility, and lightheartedness. Remember that you don’t have to be in a good mood all the time – you just need at least one good belly laugh every day.

With love,

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About the Author

David Simon, M.D.

Dr. David Simon was a world-renowned authority in the field of mind-body medicine. As a board-certified neurologist and expert in Ayurvedic medicine and other traditional healing arts, he brought a unique perspective to the relationship between mind, emotions, and health. In 1996, he co-founded and assumed the role of medical director of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, where he served as the driving force in developing and leading the Center's programs, workshops, and retreats in mind-body medicine, emotional healing, and spirituality. David was also the author of many popular wellness books, including Return to Wholeness , The Wisdom of Healing , Vital Energy , The...Read more