Laughter

In Norman Cousin’s book “The Anatomy of an Illness,” he shared how he was able to use laughter to cure himself. I still remember reading that book and thinking: “I am going to live the kind of life that has as much laughter as possible.” That was in the 80s.

Today, I read the New York Times (September 14, 2011), and found an article titled: “Scientists in Britain Say That Laughter Releases Endorphins, Limiting Pain.” Laughing until it hurts may make it hurt less.

The answer, reports Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford, is not the intellectual pleasure of cerebral humor, but the physical act of laughing. The simple muscular exertions involved in producing the familiar ha, ha, ha, he said, trigger an increase in endorphins, the brain chemicals known for their feel-good effect.

Social laughter, he suggests relaxed and contagious, is “grooming at a distance,” an activity that fosters closeness in a group the way one-on-one grooming, patting and delousing promote and maintain bonds between primates of all sort.

Dr. Dunbar and colleagues tested resistance to pain both before and after bouts of social laughter. The pain came from a freezing wine sleeve slipped over a forearm, an ever tightening blood pressure cuff or an excruciating ski exercise.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “The causal sequence is laughter trigger endorphin activation,” said Dr. Dunbar. Robert R. Provine, a neuroscientist at the university of Maryland, Baltimore county, and the author of “Laughter: a Scientific Investigation” said he thought the study was “ a significant contribution” to a field study that dates back 2,000 years or so.

Among the comedy videos were excerpts from “the Simpsons,” “Friends” and “south Park,” as well as from performances by standup comedians like Eddie Izzard. The neutral videos included “Barking Mad,” a documentary on pet training, and a golfing program. The positive but unfunny, videos included excerpt from shows about nature, like the “Jungles” episode of “Planet Earth”.

The results, when analyzed showed that laughing increased pain resistance, whereas simple good feeling, or positive affect, in a group setting, did not. Pain resistance is used as an indicator of endorphin levels.

Dr. Dunbar thinks that laughter may have been favored by evolution because it helps bring human groups together, the way other activities like dancing and singing do. Those activities also produce endorphins, he said, and physical activity is important in them as well. “Laughter is an early mechanism to bond social groups,” he said, “primate use it.”

Indeed apes are known to laugh, although in a different way than humans. They pant. “Panting is the sound of rough and tumble play,” said Dr. Provine. It becomes a “ritualization” of the sound of play. And, in the course of the evolution of human beings, he suggests, “Pant, pant becomes ha, ha.”

I don’t know if I can jump from pant pant to ha ha according to Dr. Provine. But I can certainly agree to the idea of adding more laughter in my life. In fact, we need this badly in this period of our lives.

So do not forget to add as much laughter in your life as possible. Live life with passion and be in charge of you health. Ignite the beauty within you!

Wishing you lots of laughs — the kind that make your belly hurts!

–May

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