The Joyful benefits of Laughter

My belief in the power of humor and joyful living to relieve stress is based not only on these centuries-old notions but on cutting-edge science. In recent years, researchers have shown that laughter positively affects the body in a number of ways:

*The body temperature rises, making you feel warmer *The pulse and blood pressure drop*Muscles contract, then relax as you laugh * Breathing becomes deeper * Serum oxygen levels are elevated, which benefits the cardiovascular system, heightens energy levels, and reduces tension.

Laughter also boosts your immune system. It activates T lymphocytes and natural killer cells, both of which help destroy invading microorganisms. In addition, laughter increases the production of immunity-boosting gamma interferon and speeds up production of new immune cells. It also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can weaken the immune system.

A robust laugh gives your diaphragm, thorax, abdomen, heart, lungs and maybe even the liver a good workout. Laughing for ten minutes is similar to rowing on a rowing machine one hundred times. Your muscles tighten and relax, and thereby grow stronger. Thanks to a pulmonary cardiac reflex, your pulse can double from say, 60 to 120. Laughing is aerobic! Norman Cousins, considered to be a proponent of laughter as a healing agent, said laughter was a form of “inner jogging”! He used laughter to relieve the pain of an arthritic condition called ankylosing spondylitis. He incorporated laughter into his treatment when he was hospitalized and found it reduced the amount of pain he felt. Pain clinics now use humor in many of their facilities.

A more joyful life occurs when we realize that the moment we’re in is the only moment there is. Try to shout “I’m glad to be alive” more often then” I can’t wait to get out of here.” Being in the moment gives you the ability to handle life’s imperfections. Hey, this is what exists—it’s not such a big deal.

Most people compartmentalize laughter and joy, reserving it for the weekends, birthdays, or holidays. I believe you should live as if you only have a few minutes left. Celebrate the moments, hours, and minutes of your existence.





Guilty Pleasure

Why is it so difficult to enjoy ourselves without feeling guilty? Like my grandfather’s prescription for wine and spaghetti, at times you have to let yourself go and “just enjoy”.

In a study of ninety-six volunteers, Arthur Stone, Ph.D., a psychologist from the State University of New York, found that pleasant events such as dinner with friends or a weekend hike in the woods gave a boost to the immune system that lasted for two to three days. In contrast, a stressful encounter such as an argument with a boss or spouse had a lesser effect, slightly depressing the immune system for just one day. It appears that the absence of ordinary pleasures may take an even greater toll on our health than stress does.

Remember that pleasure can go from the sublime to the ridiculous, from simple to sumptuous, and from free to expensive. It is not our budget that limits us but our minds. Have a “real” ice cream cone with sprinkles, or, God forbid a hot fudge sundae. Take a garden tour, or a hot air ballon ride, go for a manicure or ask a friend to give you one. Or go to two movies in one day.

One of my favorite pleasures is waking up early and sitting in my cozy bedroom chair while I sip a hot cup of coffee brought to me by my loving partner. The aroma, the chair, the windows which look out into my garden are all deeply rewarding. I love watching the birds swoop through the yard and seeing the squirrels running around squawking at each other. I spent years in my garden, weeding, clipping, and hauling dirt and rocks to create what is now a magical place. I cannot do what I used to do since my joints rebel. However, I still amble through the paths and pick the obtrusive weeds even though I know my back will not be happy. The joy still outweighs the pain.

One of my ultimate sources of pleasure is making fresh spaghetti sauce from scratch, cooking some spaghetti, and sitting down to fabulous results—liberally sprinkled with Parmesan of course. I can never eat spaghetti unless it is has a monumental amount of cheese on it. My grandmother and mother would admonish me any time they caught me re-sprinkling. They felt I was disrespecting their sauce. After all how was I going to taste it when I covered it up with cheese?

I’m afraid their messages of guilt didn’t sink in. I have continued to this day to be a lover of Parmesan cheese.

Don’t let life pass you by without indulging in some daily pleasure. There will always be work to do, errands to run, and responsibilities galore. But without the respite of pleasurable moments, life can feel like a stress rehearsal.