“Laugh and the world laughs with you, Weep and you weep alone”
— Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1855–1919).
The above thoughts expressed more than a century ago tell us the importance of laughter.
Man is born to be healthy. Health not only means absence of diseases, but also a natural feeling of well-being, a self-contained enjoyment of happiness and fulfilment with joyful behaviour comprising not only of the physical, mental and social well-being but also of the spiritual well-being.
Time old philosophy of four generic factors are the fundamental determinants of life – Aahaar (nutrition), Vehohar (Behavior), Vichar (Thinking), and Aachar (Conduct). Their norms, value and strength control the mind-body coordination exhibited as life. Humor and Laughter are the key to alter the behavior, thinking and conduct.
Increasing industrialization, urbanization, changing social and moral values have caused tremendous increase in stress and strain in day-to-day life, which in turn is a very big contributing factor for many of altered lifestyle related diseases such as ischemic heart disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, cancers and some forms of mental illness. It is high time that each of us realizes the importance of “Lifestyle Modification” in prevention and management of many of these diseases.
Candace Pert writes ‘Emotions registered and stored in the body in the form of chemical messages are the best candidates for the key to the health connections between mind and body’. According to Pert, this job is accomplished by complex molecules called neuropeptides. These neuropeptides are the means by which all cells in the body communicate with one another. Building more humor and laughter in your life helps assure that these chemical messages are working for you and not against you. The mere fact that you feel better after a good iaugh is not enough for the scientific community of so called “Evidence Based Medicine”, but data have started accumulating to quench their scientific thirst.
Laughter and Immune System
In 1980 departing editor of world famous “New England Journal of Medicine”, Dr. Franz Ingel£inger wrote that 85% of all human illnesses are curable by body’s own healing system (Immune system). Immune system responds favorably to positive attitudes, thoughts, moods and emotions such as love, hope, intimacy, optimism, joy, humor and laughter, and negatively to negative attitudes such as pessimism, indifference, hate, hopelessness, anger, loneliness, anxiety and depression”. In short a positive attitude to life is key to happiness.
Several studies have shown that watching as little as 30 -60 minutes of a comedy video is enough to increase both salivary IgA (Immunoglobulin A) and blood levels of IgA, which are often referred to as the body’s first line of defense against upper respiratory viral and bacterial infections.
Immunoglobulin M and G also increase following laughter, so does the compliment- 3, a substance which helps antibodies to pierce through defective and infected cells to destroy them. Humour has been found to alter cellular immunity in a positive way.
Humour has also been shown to increase level of gamma interferon, a complex substance that plays an important role in the maturation of B-cells, growth of cytotoxic T-cells, and activation of NK cells.
All this evidence makes it clear that humorous individual have a stronger immune system.
Effects of Laughter on Pain
Appreciation of pain depends to a certain extent on frame of mind and prevailing environment. It is well known that during war, severe gunshot injuries are tolerated with little pain. Recently this has been explained on the basis of “Gate theory of pain”. Similarly, humour also helps in reducing severity of pain. Max Eastman has rightly said that “Humour is the instinct for taking pain playfully”
Humour and Stress
That humour is the biggest stress reliever has been a well-know fact for centuries.
Limited research carried out on stress related hormones and humour has shown that laughter affects at least four neuroendocrine hormones associated with stress response. These are epinephrine, cortisol, dopa, and growth hormone. These hormones are related to bodies? “Fight or Flight” response.
Laughter and Cardio Respiratory System
Laughter provides a handy source of cardiac exercise. Heartbeat remains rapid for nearly 15 to 20 seconds after a good Belly laugh. From cardiac point of view this can be described as “Internal Jogging”. As laughing can be repeated many times, one can give the heart a good workout.
Laughter is not a substitute for good exercise for cardiac toning but for elderly persons and bed-ridden patients this can be considered as a good source of cardiac conditioning.
In one study it was found that persons who led humorous life had a lower resting heart rate. Laughter may also help in lowering blood pressure as an adjunct with other life style modification programs, but scientific studies are needed to substantiate this fact.
There are many studies that have linked Coronary Artery Disease to Type-A personality; studies have also shown relationship between hostility and heart diseases. Humor and laughter may be use in countering bad effects of hostility and type-A personality, but concrete scientific studies have not yet been made in this field.
Laughter and Breast-fed New Born
Laughter even affects breast-fed new-born infants. In a scientific study it was found that among the mothers who breast-fed their infants and actively used humour and laughed more frequently had fewer upper respiratory infections and their infants also had less infections as compared to those who did not do so. This could be attributed to higher levels of Immunoglobulin-A in the breast milk of these mothers.
Other Benefits of Laughter
Dr. Heiko Hayarshi of Japan University in a study found that those diabetic patients who watched a comedy show had smaller rises in their post meal glucose as compared to those who watched a humorless show, meaning there by that positive emotions like laughter help in decreasing blood sugar level.
Dr. Malcolm Harthers found that Laughter increased active Testosterone (male hormone) level especially in elderly people. If this is found true in large controlled studies, this may explain the secret of longevity in humorous persons and confirm a common layman’s observations that persons with a good sense of humor get sick less often.
Bhagwat Gita says ‘laughing drives away grief which is an important contributory factor for many mental ailments. This could be boon in present day scenario where mental illness is on a steep rise.
Humour is known to reduce frequency of cold and upper respiratory infections. This may probably be explained by a high salivary IgA levels in these persons.
After critically evaluating the above information, it makes sense to conclude that the individuals who have a better developed sense of humor, i.e. those who find more humor in their day-to-day life, remain happy contented, and have a stronger immune system and better health. This view has also been expressed by Bernia Siegel, M.D. who said, “The simple truth is that happy people generally do not get sick.”
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