Ha-Ha, He-He, Health

The healing power of humor and maintaining a merry heart have been around since ancient times. “A cheerful heart is good medicine,” proclaims Solomon in Proverbs 17:22. Even modern science agrees.

Stanford University psychiatrist Dr. William Fry, Jr., has done extensive research on the physiological benefits of laughter and has found that humor plays an active role in maintaining a healthy heart. “Humor acts to relieve fear,” Fry exclaims. “Excessive fearful thoughts, built-up anger, and tension put tremendous pressure on the heart. Yet, laughter readily relieves stress and promotes a positive perspective. This uplifted spirit breeds hope and leads to healing and well-being.”

Amuse Yourself

Along with contributing to a healthy heart, laughter can also contribute to a stronger immune system.

Christian Northrup, M.D., related a study done by research-ers who proved the significance of positive feelings on the immune system. The white-cell count in the saliva of several college students was measured before and after watching three different types of movies. One was a war picture, another a documentary on organic farming. The third film was a romantic comedy.

Without variation, the white-cell count was consistently higher among students after watching the comedy. The advanced number of white cells indicated a stronger immune system. No change occurred after the organic documentary and, tellingly, the white-cell count of students who watched the war film dropped considerably.

Humor Helps You Cope

Another healthful benefit of laughter is its ability to help us cope with daily difficulties, as well as major life challenges.

Perhaps Abraham Lincoln’s ability to laugh and find humor at even the most critical times can inspire us and provide perspective. Writer Keith Jennison recorded, “Lincoln’s ability to laugh astonished people who worked with him. At one meeting during a bloody phase of the Civil War, the cabinet sat dumbfounded while he read aloud from a book of humor. ‘Gentleman,’ Lincoln said, ‘why don’t you laugh? If I did not laugh I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do.’”

Laughter is healing to our bodies and medicine for our souls. The Bible teaches that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven . . . a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4).

Whether you are a dignitary, homemaker, professional, or president of the United States, we all experience disappointments and even tragedies. But those who maintain a sense of humor can triumphantly overcome life’s challenges and stay healthier as well.

Look for the Light Side

Tune in to the lighter side of life. Focus on the funny. Create a “laughter library.” Gather resources that inspire you to laugh. Collect humorous books and hilarious movies. Call a funny friend. Be a lighthearted friend. Share sidesplitting stories with others. Have a joke book handy. Get your favorite comedians on disc. There are plenty of clean Christian comedians with the gift to make you laugh without guilt or embarrassment.

Look for the ludicrous in life. Humorist and motivational speaker Loretta LaRoche points out that many times we need not look outside our daily circumstances for humor. Our lives are filled with potential and often untapped funny events. LaRoche tours the U.S. teaching stress reduction with humor techniques to thousands of people each year. Many companies have recognized the need to manage stress among employees in an effort to prevent illnesses, promote health, and increase morale and productivity. Raising one’s sense of humor and ability to laugh is one enlightened way.

Try It

When you simply can’t muster any mirth, take a moment and laugh anyway.

I recently heard of an unusual prescription given to a patient who was suffering from sadness and depression. The physician informed his patient that she would have to overcome her depression since it was making her sick. He advised her to laugh three times a day whether she felt like it or not.

The patient felt silly, but did as the doctor ordered. Within days, her spirits lifted. She assumed a joyful new outlook on life, and was once again in excellent health. Her doctor was privy to the power of endorphins–the “feel good” hormones–which are released when we laugh.

While sitting at the table one night after dinner, my husband and I tried it. It worked. It worked so well we were dabbing tears from ours eyes with napkins. “Do it again!” I cried, wanting him to laugh from his belly. Every time he did, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing too.

“This is foolish,” my husband hooted, unable to stop the giggles. Amazingly, our forced laughter became real almost instantly. Sound ridiculous? Absolutely absurd? Maybe. But this laughing charade set a cheerful tone in our home that night, and many since.

Laughter and Longevity

Laughter not only lightens your mood; it can lengthen your life.

In his article, “Centenarian Role Models,” Michael Brickey, Ph.D., and author of Defy Aging and 52 Baby Steps to Grow Young, delights and inspires readers with examples of men and women who lived to be 100; all leading fulfilling, active lives and staying “mentally and physically sharp.” A sense of humor, strong sense of purpose, and passion for life was prominent among the centenarians studied.

Consider media pioneers Bob Hope and George Burns who lived to be 100. Both were celebrated for their great sense of humor and youthful mindsets.

Michelle Pritchard wisely stated, “You don’t stop laughing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop laughing.” Most children smile and laugh up to 600 times a day, elated by the smallest things. That natural urge to laugh lives within us all. Invite it out to play.

Every once in a while I motivate my husband to chuckle. It seems silly, but it’s fun and keeps us young. While laughing doesn’t guarantee we’ll live to be 100 or never have a health problem, studies show it can strengthen the heart, boost immune function, manage stress, help you cope, and improve your mood. Most of all, by embracing a sense of humor while finding creative ways to add laughter to your daily life, you will be playing an active role in creating vibrant health, happiness, and well-being in others.

So go ahead and do something silly, just for laughs.