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Laughing for the Health of It

Chuckle Therapy

The mere anticipation of a good laugh, it seems, can be as healthful as a rib-tickling rollick itself. Researchers led by a team from the College of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, recently took a look at how the expectation of a funny event affected a person's stress levels and immune system function. What they found was striking. Several subjects at nearby Loma Linda University were told that they would be viewing a humorous video in three days. A control group was told nothing. In the days before show time, the participants who were informed in advance showed a 39 percent decrease in cortisol and a 70 percent drop in epinephrine, both stress hormones that can be detrimental to health. They also saw an 87 percent rise in growth hormone and a 27 percent gain in beta-endorphin. Both these compounds can reduce the effects of stress and strengthen the immune system. The control group saw none of these changes. "This has profound wellness and disease prevention implications, and may indeed constitute a real 'biology of hope,'" says lead researcher Lee Berk, Dr.PH. (doctorate in public health), an assistant professor of family medicine at the College of Medicine.

Making Time for Laughter

To move these findings from the laboratory into your life, Berk proposes the following: Start scheduling good times on your calendar, just like business meetings, doctor's appointments, or parent-teacher conferences. Is A Fish Called Wanda on television next week? Write it down. Are the Harlem Globetrotters coming to town? Pencil it in. To increase the level of levity in your life in general, Judy Goldblum-Carlton, humor therapist at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children in Baltimore, has a few suggestions. Feel free to tailor them to your funny bone.

  1. Start a humor library. Collect great cartoons, silly sayings, or greeting cards that tickle your fancy, and put them on the refrigerator. Encourage your children to help out by adding their own comedic favorites. 
  2. Put comedy into your commute. You can do this by listening to humorous books on tape. Some great ones to start with: The Rest of Us: Dispatches from the Mother Ship, by Jacquelyn Mitchard, and A Prairie Home Companion Pretty Good Joke Tape, an audiotape filled with segments from the Garrison Keillor radio show of the same name.
  3.  Develop a finely honed ability to laugh at yourself. Life is so much more fun when its main character -- namely you -- isn't too self-serious. 
  4. Play more. Kids and pets are wonderful coconspirators when it comes to playing. Enlist their help.
  5. Look for the humor in ordinary, everyday events. For example, challenge yourself to see how many amusing things you can see on your next walk through the mall or drive home from work.
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