By Dr. Mara Karpel
“A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast.” ~ Groucho Marx
How we feel emotionally is often caused by the thoughts that we think. As I’ve become more mindful of my thoughts and how I feel, I’ve noticed that it sure is easy to wear myself down in a matter of moments with beliefs that aren’t true, and it’s also possible to feel better in a matter of moments by changing my perspective. I see it every day with my clients, friends, family, and associates. This downward spiral caused by negative thoughts and beliefs.
Abraham, from Co-Creating at It’s Best: A Conversaton Between Master Teachers, by Dr. Wayne Dyer and Esther Hicks, “There is a momentum in thought. And if you think a thought long enough, it becomes a strong habit of thought. That is what a belief is….Sometimes you continue to perpetuate beliefs that do not serve you….Every thought is a vibration, and ‘Law of Attraction’ is responding to every thought, and therefore the thought is going to increase. The only question is: Is this thought one that you want to increase?” Many of us unfortunately opt to follow the thought that increases our worry and stress.
We Have the Power to Change Our Thought Habits and Beliefs
Anxiety and chronic stress have been consistently shown to be responsible for damage to almost every system of the human body because these and other negative emotions have been associated with the increase of stress hormones in the blood stream, which lower functioning of the immune system. In addition, anxiety and chronic stress often lead to depression. However, we have the power to disconnect this downward spiral of thought and to change our patterns of habitual thinking If we change these thought habits, we can change, not only how we feel emotionally, but we can also improve our health, our relationships, and our entire life!
One very powerful way of achieving this is through the use of humor. In Anatomy of An Illness, Norman Cousins described how he incorporated humor therapy into his own treatment of a very painful illness, spending several hours per day belly laughing while watching Marx Brothers movies. He eventually recovered from this disease, and since then the medical world has taken the adage, “Laughter is the best medicine,” much more seriously.
Laughter Protects Us From Stress
Laughter actually increases crucial elements that boost the power of the immune system and defend the body from illness, by reducing damaging stress hormones and acting as a protection from the dangers of stress. In addition, humor interferes with that downward spiral of energy-zapping thoughts, as well as our draining thought habits and beliefs, by helping us to notice the absurdity of the situation or make light of a situation that we are feeling angry about or threatened by. Laughter creates positive emotions, such as joy, amusement, hope, confidence, overall well-being. In the short term, it stabilizes blood pressure, massages inner organs, stimulates circulation, helps improve digestion, increases the supply of oxygen to the muscles, and decreases muscle tension. A really good belly-laugh can even lead to a feeling of euphoria.
Humor and laughter have the added bonuses of:
- Enhancing creativity.
- Providing freedom from the tendency to over-think.
- Detoxifying your body. The tears produced by laughter are chemically different from the tears produced by sadness. Laughter tears contain toxins that the body releases during laughter. When you laugh until you cry, you’re cleaning these poisons from your body.
- Deepening relationships, as sharing laughter with a loved one can, improve communication and bring joy into the relationship.
- Reducing physical pain by releasing endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are natural pain-reducing and mood-elevating chemicals produced by our brains. In his book, Norman Cousins reported that ten minutes of laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep during his recovery.
- Achieving benefit of an aerobic workout. It gives a workout to the diaphragm, increases the body’s ability to use oxygen, and provides cardiac conditioning.
Laughter During Times of Stress
Perhaps you wonder, “How can I find humor when I’m in a very stressful life circumstance or I’m not feeling well?” In the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln once stated to his cabinet: “Why don’t you laugh, gentlemen? With the grave situations that are upon me day and night, if I did not laugh I should die. You need the medicine as much as I do.”
Humor has the unique power to brighten even the darkest situation. From early in my life, I have made it a point to find friends who share my love of laughter. I have fond memories of my friends and I laughing our way through the stresses of school and of life. I still smile at the memories of completely losing control and laughing until my sides hurt. Some of these memories are from long ago and some are from just a few days ago. In fact, some of the happiest moments I have with other people, involve laughter, including the times my grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s, and I would laugh until we cried. Even memories of sad events, such as my grandmother’s funeral, are mellowed by the memory of giggling to myself at that time over something that I knew she would find amusing.
While visiting my parents in New York, I mentioned to a friend that sometimes helping them through some of the issues of aging feels like an adventure. My friend responded, “Yes, it is an adventure. And one that takes a lot of courage, good friends, and a really good sense of humor.” In the most stressful moments, it has been a gift to be able to find moments when I can laugh.
Make It a Point to Laugh EveryDay
- Laugh at yourself, rather than criticizing yourself for your mistakes.
- Look for the humor in life’s ironies.
- Watch a funny movie or television show.
- Read a funny book.
- Keep a laughter journal with a collection of jokes and funny stories.
- Share a funny story with friends.
- In their book, Awakening the Laughing Buddha Within, the Barefoot Doctor and Joe Hoare reported that even listening to the sound of laughter significantly reduces stress. You can find laughter apps that are available to download on your smart phone with many varieties of laughter to choose from.
Do you remember times when you just totally let go of control and laughed until you cried? Have you done that recently? Give it a try. Perhaps the reason that the comedian George Burns lived to the ripe young age of 100, was that he saw the humor in everything, including growing older. Once, when asked how long he planned to work, he responded: “I’m going to stay in show business until I’m the last one left.”
[For more information, and interviews with expert guests, be sure to join me LIVE every Sunday, 5-7pm CT/6-8pm ET for “Dr. Mara Karpel & Your Golden Years.” Join the conversation by calling in, e-mailing, or tweeting, or you can listen any time on podcast.]