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Laughing is good for your brain.

As Woody Allen said,

“I am grateful for laughter except when the milk comes out of my nose.”

When did you last have a good laugh? You know one of those really good deep belly laughs where you temporarily become engulfed in an uncontrollable fit of the giggles.
The one where your body is shaking helplessly in uncontrollable spasm, with tears pouring down your face. Where you become helpless to think, move or do anything until the moment is gone and our outpouring of guffaws, snorts or hoots has passed.

And how did you feel afterwards? Relaxed? Exhausted? You are likely to be feeling happy and to have a more positive outlook on life.
Laughing allows our problems and worries to not seem so big or scary anymore. Our resilience to life’s challenges improves.

And that’s why laughter is so good for our brain. We think better, have increased memory capacity, improved focus and attentiveness and are more positive when we include laughter in our lives.

When we laugh, a variety of different areas in our brain light up in activity. In less than half a second our logical left brain analyses the words or situation we are exposed to. Our frontal lobes then look to organise and plan and deal with our emotional response. Then our “big picture” right hemisphere “gets it” and finally our sensory and motor areas become involved, processing the visual cues and providing the outward physical response.

Do you remember or have you noticed, in school, it is those teachers who are able to engage their students with fun and excitement in their lessons, that the whole learning experience becomes so much more memorable?

If we are studying or working really hard, taking even a short break or time out with friends, to share a laugh or a joke will help us make a huge difference to our learning ability. We can focus and concentrate better, both essential prerequisites for memory.

Children laugh so much more than we do as adults. Kids laugh up to 300 times a day. Adults are lucky if we manage 17 laughs a day.
Where did all that fun go?

What is one of the first social cues we look for in our newborn babies?
That’s right, their first smile. That first toothless grin is such a magic moment, bonding infant with parent.
When we hear babies and children laughing, we are more likely to laugh too.

If you are feeling down or in need of cheering up, have you ever decided to find a comedy show on the TV or gone to watch a funny film? Why do we choose to do this?
Because we know from experience that if we do, it provides us with a temporary escape from all the other stuff in our lives that may be overwhelming us, making us sad, depressed or anxious and makes us feel better overall.

Remember laughter is infectious. Catch one person laughing and the mood in the whole room will lift and others will join is as well. It bonds people sharing the experience and improves the group’s ability to communicate better with each other afterwards.
Even if we don’t share the same language, a shared laugh crosses all barriers.

How can you bring more joy and laughter into your own life?

First up, choose to do so.
Look for opportunities to “lighten up”, maybe not take yourself so seriously and let go.

Practise smiling.
Make a conscious effort to smile and acknowledge people (even if and especially if you are not feeling like it)
Smile at the checkout chick in the supermarket ( And they are sometimes in serious need of a smile)
Smile at random strangers. So what if they think you are nuts?
They may just think you are a happy person and they may even smile back. And every smile you receive back will lift your mood.

Next time you are up early (tomorrow right!) maybe taking the dog for a walk, or going to the gym or a run, practise smiling at people you pass. By the time you get to work and have already exchanged smiles with half a dozen or more people, you are likely to be in a much better frame of mind to start your day.
Smiles defuse tension and anxiety.
They provide support and show someone you care.

It takes more muscles to smile, so give your face a work out and smile and laugh often!

Spend time with others who make you laugh and who enjoy humour in their own lives. Sharing a joke with friends builds connections and allows us to express our true feelings more.

There are even laughter classes now. The medical and social benefits of laughter have been recognised as being so beneficial that trained laughologists (no really!) run classes with the purpose of reducing stress, raising energy levels, making you more positive in outlook and strengthening your immune system. Laughter triggers the brain to release endorphins, the feel good chemicals that help us to achieve a sense of well-being. Our levels of dopamine and serotonin increase and our levels of cortisol decrease.
The study of laughter is gelatology (sounds to me like ice cream) I’d like two scoops of that please with an extra squirt of dopamine.

Dr Patch Adams in the US is well known for his use of humour and laughter as a way of helping people heal when they have been sick.
Humour has been to shorten to reduce the amount of pain experienced by patients when recovering.
Which would you rather have? A couple of painkillers or a shot of humour?

Studies have shown that watching a comedy program rather than a drama, allows our blood vessel walls to relax, increasing blood flow and oxygen flow to our brain and reducing blood pressure.

And don’t forget, we tend to be more attracted to people we perceive as having a good sense of humour.
So, what’s a simple way to be perceived as an attractive person, that others would want to be with?

You got it.
Let go, and have a good laugh.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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