Psychology for living: the healing power of laughter

Gwen Randall-Young

I was talking with a client recently about the importance of laughter. We were commenting on the health benefits, and I remembered the story of how Norman Cousins healed himself by watching funny movies. He had a serious illness, and rather than sitting around brooding about it, he decided it would be better to be positive and to laugh. So he watched old Groucho Marx movies and laughed a lot. His condition improved markedly.

It occurred to me that if laughter can do good things for the physical body, then it can also do good things for relationships and families. In the body, laughter relieves stress and likely produces endorphins, which make us feel good. In a relationship, laughter also relieves stress, and produces good feelings, which strengthens the relationship.

In families, the same thing applies. Shared laughter creates a warmth between people and, like a magnetic attraction, makes us want to be together. There is a lot of nonverbal bonding that occurs when two or more people share a laugh. Affectionate teasing is like a compliment, because we only do it with people we like. I think of laughter as the emotional equivalent of sunshine. Days without sun can be dreary, as can days without laughter. No matter what the burdens, if my clients can still laugh, I know they will be okay.

If we have no laughter in our lives, then we are at some risk emotionally, and probably even physically. Certainly there are times when there is nothing to laugh about, but we must not stay in that space for too long. Finding laughter means allowing ourselves to move into a lighter space, if only for a short while. Sometimes simply trying to bring a laugh or smile to another person is all it takes to shift our own energy. It is easy to forget how to be playful. The seriousness of life can make us lose that child-like innocence, but it need not be lost for good.

At first it might take outside stimulation to bring the laughter back, be it a funny movie, or doing something that you normally don’t do, like going sledding, or playing a game. It might require a conscious effort to find something humorous each day, that you can share with others. Perhaps playing some (harmless) practical jokes will get you going, and show others that you are open to playfulness.

A smile is a magical thing. Have you noticed how the face of a stranger is transformed when they see you smiling at them. If your smile can have that effect on a stranger, think how much it does for those you live and work with. So if you have lost your smile, or forgotten how to laugh, it might be time to do something about that. Our children model our behavior, so if we are serious all the time, they may be too. Even if there is pain and struggle in our lives, a little laughter can make it more bearable. We don’t have to wait for something that will make us laugh. We just have to see the humor that is already there, or create a little of our own.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration