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     Volume 10 |Issue 03 | January 21, 2011 |

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The Healing Power of Laughter

Obaidur Rahman

Even if there is nothing to laugh about, laugh on credit.
– Anonymous

There is truly something magnificent about laughter that divinely lifts up one's spirit. As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine; surely this amazing physiological act is a great stimulant not only for the soul but also for the bodily sphere that so majestically carries it. Some say it only takes an abundance array of money and materialistic splendours to cement contentment in life but what if there is no laughter? Obviously no one is denying the need for materialistic marvels but it is the age old wisdom that says, laughter is the true indicator of happiness in life and it is the laughter that undoubtedly makes living certainly a joyous treat. And not just for humans by the way. Interestingly, the infectious nature of laughter transcends species as researches have shown that human being is not the only species on Earth to express this audible expression of joy. A variety of other species including chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, orangutan to even dogs, birds and rats have displayed laughter like vocalisation, probably in response to the nature of humour that mankind have so meritoriously graduated from ages ago. Yet laughter remains a natural-most mode of communiqué of mankind (children learn to laugh long before they learn to speak), a true forte and one of the few acts against which no one seeks any defense.

But what is this laughter anyway? According to neurophysiology, laughter is strongly linked with the activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex which produces endorphins and the participation of hippocampus and the amygdale, both of which are part of the limbic system, a set of complex brain structures that seemingly supports a variety of physiological functions including emotions. In simpler terms and as far as mankind is concerned, laughter is a human behaviour, strictly regulated by the brain which specifically assists human beings to clarify their intentions in aspects of social interactions and vibrantly provides an emotional context to conversations. Laughter's deep rooted neurological mechanism clearly explains the contagious characteristics of laughter as the infectious nature of hilarity often results in domino effects of joy and amusement. This means, we tend to respond to laughs with laughter!

There is a general theory that explains laughter and it is called the relief theory and noted neurologist Sigmund Freud summarised this theory by explaining that laughter releases tension and “psychic energy”. And it is this theory, amongst few, which crucially justified the notion that laughter is beneficial for one's health and indeed is a coping mechanism against despairs of various natures. One aspect that must be understood here is that humour and laughter are two separate things. Laughter is the response to humour. The gravity of the fact is, we are biologically programmed to laugh and we are programmed in such way because laughter holds an immense importance to our well-being, both in physical and spiritual sense.

It's simply amazing that just by involving barely more than a dozen of the facial muscles (laughter involves 15 of the facial muscles, the key lifting mechanism of the upper lip); one can significantly boost her/his health and heartily ensure a better living. Take the case of laughter's power of managing the hormones. Research has shown that laughter has the ability to reduce the levels of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, adrenaline, dopamine and growth hormones while increasing the level of health-enhancing ones like endorphins and neurotransmitters. Laughter also increases a number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the efficiency of the T-cells, all of which means that laughter develops a strong immune system and raises the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and hence a strong immune system. And it must be mentioned here that endorphin is the body's natural feel-good chemical and when produced by laughter, it creates an overall sense of well-being and has the command to relieve pain on a temporary basis.

Laughter also has a strong influence on the healthy function of the blood vessels and research regarding this was carried out by scientists at the University of Maryland Medical Centre back in 2005. It was found that laughter causes the dilation of the inner lining of blood vessels and increases the blood flow. And when the function of blood vessels are improved and blood flow is increased through laughter, one is better-protected against heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. According to experts, a really good laugh increases not only the pulse and heart rates but also supplies extra oxygen and ventilates into lungs and stimulates blood circulation which in effect assists to ease muscle tensions. Studies have also shown that a good, hearty laugh not only releases physical tension but also exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs and works out the shoulders, leaving muscles in the key regions of human body more relaxed and rested. Dr. William Fry of Stanford University of Medicine, who dedicated many years to study laughter, describes laughter as a total body experience in which all the major systems of the body (muscles, nerves, brain, heart and digestive mechanisms) participate fully.

But perhaps the most significant benefit of laughter is the spiritual and psychological comforting that each one ushers. Laughter surely adds joy and zest to life, eases anxiety and fear, lifts up one's spirit, enhances resilience and allows one to keep a positive, optimistic outlook in matters of living. Laughter is the true work-out for the soul and one of the key ingredients to stay emotionally healthy as it simply creates a beautiful distraction and channels out the negative emotions in the healthiest of ways and architects a positive frame of mind. As the saying goes, laughter is one's true birth-right; surely one incorporates laughter into every fabric of life, despite the differences in race, religion and so on. Everybody laughs and laughter is one those divine aspects of being human that truly binds mankind together. We are quite blessed with many aspects that ushers laughter quite naturally to us. It could be through watching a funny movie, TV sitcoms, reading jokes and satires or just simply goofing around with friends in the safest and healthiest of manners to ignite the laughter that simply pacifies our very soul.



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