Laughter really might be the best medicine

Nov. 21, 2022 – Among the many prescriptions for health, perhaps none is more important than laughter. In fact, laughter is quite high in the medicine toolbox, with researches which suggests that it produces a variety of benefits that range from reducing stress and improving breathing to boosting the body’s immune system and increasing pain tolerance.

But one of the most important benefits of laughter may be its positive effects on mental health and the ability to deal with life’s many basketballs, especially as we age. The challenge is to keep the humor muscle pumped and full.

“Studies show that around the age of 23, our tendency to laugh starts to evaporate, we have more responsibilities – graduating college, jobs, promotions, variable rate mortgages and the like,” says Paul Osincup, joking. strategist and former president of the Society for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. “We don’t really get that laugh back until we’re in our 70s.

But 50 some some years seems like an awfully long time to recover one of life’s most precious gifts, which is why the rule of “use it or lose it” applies like all muscles.

“Like all other mindfulness and positive psychology techniques, it takes practice, intention and vulnerability,” says Mallory DeSalle, director of SBIRT Implementation and Motivational Interviewing Training at Indiana University in Bloomington and a licensed mental health professional and licensed humorist.

Osincup agrees.

“The premise really is that at any moment we can see our lives as drama or comedy. The more we immerse ourselves in humor and begin to learn how to use and experience humor – not by chance but by choice – we begin to prepare for positivity in our lives,” he says.

Not all laughs are created equal

The first step to harnessing the power of laughter is to understand the language of laughter.

Laughter can induce itself at will without humorous or witty prompting.

Laughter can be stimulated by physical contact (eg tickling) or induced by drugs (eg laughing gas or nitrous oxide during dental procedures).

Laughter can also be caused by changes in the body’s nervous system or due to mental conditions. This type of laughter is called pathological laughter

But when it comes to health and well-being, the most important laugh is the one people know best, which according to 2021 reviews, is genuine or spontaneous laughter. This is the type of laughter that is triggered by external stimuli such as a funny joke or triggered by positive emotions.

It can also be activated through humor exercises, which is a sweet spot for therapeutic humorists like DeSalle and her practice partner, Lodge McCammon, PhD, teacher, therapeutic humorist and musician. Osincup also uses humor exercises in his workshops.

Retraining the humoral muscle

Before we dither, let’s be clear: the goal of these exercises is not to create a new generation of comedians or performers or to force anyone to “give up.”

Rather, DeSalle and McCammon use absurdity training in their work with clients, an approach that invites participants to “absurd” their distress so that they can reframe unpleasant experiences and, in turn, gain a brief respite from negative emotions and little irritation or challenge.

Recently, the team hosted a month-long training series on the community’s Facebook page, which they called Humor. For 4 weeks, the participants were offered suggestions that focused on humor and its benefits, followed by instructions on that motivation. For example:

Fill in the blank: Don’t be part of the problem. be [fill in the blank].

DeSalle explains that an exercise like this is a warm-up that helps people slowly wake up their resting hamstring muscles. Although a common answer might be the solutionthe practice answer should be a caricature of reality and something unexpectedly ridiculous, such as:

Don’t be part of the problem. be usual troublemaker.

McCammon says that each day, participants were invited to post their answers and comments to others, with each week culminating in a Friday event (say, the funniest post) that would be shared on their own pages and with the group as a whole. Participants were also trained on how to create memes from the instructions.

“Over time, they got more and more challenging, and by the last 2 weeks they were considered therapeutic exercises,” says McCammon. “Instead of asking players to input something ridiculous, we asked them to input something that was bothering them or something they were dealing with in life that is difficult.

Afterwards, the participants were asked to remake what was challenging or unpleasant into something more enjoyable. In particular, the humorists used memes for these tips. For example:

Not to brag or anything, but I can [scratch a new car] better than anyone you’ve ever met.

“Ultimately, we’re helping to find a faster fix—not only is it uncomfortable, but it’s also funny because [blank],” DeSalle explains.

“They can learn how to retrain their thoughts — to reframe — instead of sitting in discomfort and pain, which is what we tend to do as humans,” she says.

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