Most have heard the saying, "Laughter is the best medicine." Many times medicines can improve our illness, but addressing the whole person calls for something more. There is an increasing interest in studying how humor and laughter can lead to increased health and better immune function.

What is humor? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines humor as "the mental faculty of discovering, expressing or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous, or something that is or designed to be comical or amusing." In plain English, humor is both a mental activity and behavioral action. Everyone has the potential to be humorous and appreciate humor; but one's humor level and type of humor appreciated differs among each of us.

Ever noticed that just the right sense of humor in a stressful situation can reduce that tension? Reducing the stress level brings us closer together, offers a way to take a breath and approach the issue in another way. Communication through humor can reduce anxiety and fear, which is brought about through insecurity. Humor helps build good working relationships and improves morale in the workplace. Humor can be something that stimulates us, much like the emotional response from laughter. Humor can be used to express true concerns and disappointments in a non-confrontational way.

But yes, there is more! Humor can help to improve your health through:
Hearty-laughter--Laughing from your core can help reduce muscle tension and exercise your heart. It also helps to increase endorphins and enriches your blood. Yes, laughter actually helps to improve overall health. So don't feel awkward the next time you burst forth with a full-bodied laugh … you are simply improving your health!

Expressing positive emotions--Anything that can create positive thoughts serves the same purpose as humor. Feelings like love or success can help to bring about a similar expression of these positive ways of living life. Humor easily creates positive thoughts, almost as easily as not being able to be angry while you whistle. Try it.

Reducing stress --Who doesn't have stress? Here is another way of improving your health. Stress causes unhealthy effects on our bodies--it increases our risk of various infections, diseases and illnesses. Since humor can reduce stress, it can counteract against this unhealthy lifestyle.

Social Acceptance--Want more friends? Not only does humor increase our health, but this sincere, honest sense of humor makes one more socially desirable. This leads to a larger support system that is satisfying and helps maintain resilience during those difficult times.

Studies continue to examine the benefits of humor on health--both mental and physical. Humor is a positive expression when used in good taste and at the right moments. It is quite possible that humor makes living a little easier by putting life into perspective. As Mel Brooks once said, "Humor is just another defense against the universe." So, go ahead … laugh a little!

For more information on the benefits of humor, visit:

Carolina Health and Humor Association, http://www.carolinahealthandhumor.org/

University of Maryland Medical Center, http://www.umm.edu/features/laughter.htm

Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-relief/SR00034

Page last updated Mon October 31st, 2011 at 00:00