HONOLULU - Is your life a joke' It could be, if you want to stay happy and healthy.

One difference between optimists and pessimists is that an optimist laughs to forget; a pessimist forgets to laugh.

Did you know that healthy young children laugh an average of 30 times a day' Laughter keeps children mentally and physically healthy.

As adults, sometimes we forget to laugh, and our laughter "muscle" can become weak. This tendency can turn into a struggle to stay positive. If your laughter muscles are on the flabby side, you can quickly get back into shape with some good old-fashioned belly laughs.

Many studies have shown the benefits of laughter. Now some hospitals around the country are incorporating formal and informal laughter-therapy programs into their therapeutic regimens.

There are all kinds of physical and mental benefits to laughter, according to Dr. Lee Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University, Calif. They have been studying the effects of laughter on the immune system and have published studies that show that laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion and boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, which are the body's natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being.

Their studies also show a decrease in stress hormones that constrict blood vessels and suppress immune activity. For example, levels of epinephrine were lower in the group anticipating humor and were lower after the group was exposed to humor.

In addition, dopamine levels, which are involved in the "fight or flight response" and are associated with elevated blood pressure, were decreased with exposure to humor.

Laughing is also aerobic, providing a workout for the diaphragm and increasing the body's ability to use oxygen. Laughter provides cardiac conditioning, especially for those unable to perform physical exercises.

Soldiers, spouses and children can use comedy and laughter therapy. Laughter really is the best medicine; it's free and has no side effects.

Families need to laugh together until it feels good. Parents need to find their "inner-silly" again. Soldiers need to learn how to reconnect with their families and children, and humor is often the best method to break down barriers. For example, join an imaginative tea party; the giggles will lift your spirits.

Laughter is the universal language that makes everyone feel connected. It brings husbands and wives, and parents and children together like no other form of conversation.

Laughter can bring families together.

(Editor's Note: Genie Joseph is a consultant who provides periodic resiliency classes at Army Community Service. Contact Joseph at 397-7678 or www.act-resilient.org.)