When my 5-year old asked me, “Mom, how do you laugh?” I couldn’t decipher if the question was about me specicially, or if the “you” was meant to be a general term, as in “what are the mechanisms in place that make one laugh—physiologically speaking?” I answered her question with an over-exaggerated laugh, which got lots of chuckles from my 5-year old and her little sister. She seemed satisfied. And it sort of made me feel good, too.
Try it. Sit there at your computer screen and fake laugh for a minute. Loudly. Even better if there are other folks around to hear and see you do this. They’ll laugh too and you’ll laugh harder at the ridiculousness of the whole thing.
Feel good?! Okay, now on to more serious matters. There are two questions I feel I need some clarification and insight on. They are:
1. Physiologically, why and how do we laugh?
2. Don’t I laugh enough? Do you?
Excuse me while I do a little research on google.
I’m back. Okay, here’s the deal: laughter uses the entire physiology of the body–the respiratory system, the muscular system, endocrine and immune systems are all involved. Well, I didn’t come across the digestive system….but hey–it’s sort of muscular in nature, so I guess it’s affected, too!
When you laugh, your body releases endorphines–those feel-good hormones which are the body’s natural pain killers. Some even say that laughter can improve health and cure disease (remember that book/movie “Patch Adams?”) There are actual studies in the J. of Applied Physiology (among others) by researchers measuring laughter by means of FVC (forced vital capacity) with spirometers and concluding that laughter is indeed a forceful and mechanical event. Who knew?!
Like yawning, laughter also seems to be “contagious.” When you hear others laughing, you sort of want to be in on the action too. And, as mentioned earlier, it feels good–and it’s relaxing. After a good ol’ belly laugh, take a minute to guage how you feel…pretty darned relaxed, right? Hummm, just may be something to it.
Here’s another little trick you can try: smile. Do it right now. A great big, show your pearly whites smile, make some eye crinkles when you do it, too. You’ll feel better, trust me. Know why? It’s because you are inadvertedly opening your nasal passages, which get more air to your brain. That’s also the reason deep inhalations through your nose works to to calm you down in stressful situations.
On to question #2: Do I personally laugh enough? Short answer: No.
I think I take myself too seriously, and I know I take my job as a mom seriously. But I am trying to loosen up. Really, there are some funny moments as a parent. Here’s one: I recently witnessed a mom trying to persuade her almost 2-year old son to take off his princess gear so he could play at the playgroup better. Now if you had seen this kid and his intent to jump around in a tiara and tutu you would have wanted to laugh, too. But his mom wasn’t. She was exasperated. Just laugh, I wanted to tell her. But you see, when we are in the moment of parenting a reluctant child, it’s hard to remember to turn your laugh on.
As for me, I think I will turn my on, I’ll look for dumb things to laugh at, and I will attend that laughter yoga class I saw advertised at the local library. Now where’s my tiara and sticky mat??
Here’s a website you may want to check out on the health benefits of humor and laughter: