When was the last time you laughed really hard–a hearty, sidesplitting belly laugh? Or you laughed so hard you forgot what triggered it, leaving you laughing without reason?
Fun and humor is the name of the game for children and teens. They look for fun and enjoyment in their lives. Adults, on the other hand, tend to take themselves too seriously. As a result, many have lost touch with the importance of fun at home, on the job and in other aspects of their lives. Human beings by nature are spontaneous and playful. Yet the older we become, the less appropriate it seems for us to allow the fun to be expressed. In today’s fast pace of life, it is critical that adults regularly experience the benefits of laughter. We do not have to be a comedian to enjoy the pleasure of laughter. But we do have to seek ways to bring humor into our lives and those around us.
How many laughs have you had today? If you are a somber person, who does not take time for pleasure and always looks at things in a negative way, you are likely to have health problems in the future. If you are a serious workaholic and don’t take time to laugh, you may find yourself less productive and effective than if you take time out for a little laughter.
Physical benefits of humor
· Relieves stress
· Exercises muscles
· Increases function of respiratory system
· Decreases blood pressure and heart rate
· Enhances alertness, memory, learning and creativity
· Improves immune system
· Improves digestion
· Relieves pain and tension
· Stimulates cardiovascular system
· Triggers endorphins
· Improves mental functioning
· Robust laughter is called internal jogging, leaving your muscles, heart rate, blood pressure and breathing with the effects of a good workout.
Psychological benefits of humor
· Acts as coping mechanism that can relieve hostility and anger and can distance us from the burden of illness and disability
· Relieves anxiety, distress, anger and depression
· Changes our perspective
· Provides an acceptable way of enjoying usually forbidden topics
· Creates feelings of well-being, a sense of empowerment and control
· Assists in creating and maintaining a positive attitude, hope, energy and self-esteem
· Creates change in behavior–reduces whining and complaining
There are occasions when humor may be inappropriate. A good rule of thumb is, “When in doubt, don’t”. Humor can be destructive if it:
· Lowers self-esteem
· Perpetuates stereotypes
· Excludes someone
· Creates defensiveness
· Is used to discharge hostile, cynical or resentful feelings
· Is used during a deeply distressing time (death of a loved one, during severe depression)
Humor has many benefits that can strengthen and maintain healthy family relationships. Research has found a sense of humor to be one of the characteristics in resilient individuals and families. Families who have a sense of humor are more likely to feel good about themselves. It gives families perspective and a sense of power. Having a sense of humor also helps families cope with life’s stressors and crises.
Skills in humor can be developed if you are willing to become more playful. Surround yourself with humor you enjoy, begin telling a few jokes or funny stories, look for humor in everyday situations, laugh more often and more heartily, laugh at yourself, and look for the light side of stressful situations.
Sources: “Building Family Strengths: Humor,” Clemson Extension, 2000. “Looking on the Funny Side,” University of Illinois Extension, 2003. - Diane G. Ryals, family life educator
Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist in Barton County, University of Missouri Extension