If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us, it’s that life can be tough on us. Whether it be unforeseen work, financial, personal or family issues, or just everyday pressures. These challenges can be quite stressful, unless you take them with a grain of salt…
The Benefits of Smiling and Laughing
When life throws you a punch, make smiling and laughing your superpowers. That’s because smiling and laughing have several benefits. These include:
Helps you live longer: A Norwegian study found that women with a strong sense of humor were 73% less likely to die from heart disease than women who had a weak sense of humor. What’s more, women with a strong sense of humor were also 83% less likely to die from infection, and 48% less likely to die from all causes.
Boosts your immune system: When you laugh, it lowers stress hormones like cortisol and increases the level of infection-fighting antibodies and immune cells. This in turn boosts your immune system. In a study examining the effect of laughter on gastrointestinal patients undergoing treatment, patients who used a form of laughter therapy called the Smile-Sun Method showed higher immunity levels.
Protects your heart: When you laugh, blood vessel function and blood flow are optimized. This in turn may offer protection against cardiovascular problems. Also, laughter buffers the effects of psychological stress, which is one of the major predictors of cardiovascular disease.
Increases your tolerance to pain: Laughter increases your tolerance to pain through the release of endorphins, which not only relieve pain but also improve your sense of well-being.
Induces relaxation: When you laugh, it eases physical tension and stress. In fact, it causes your muscles to be relaxed for upwards of 40 minutes. Dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins are also released, improving your mood.
Gives you a change in perspective: When you laugh, your perspective shifts and you’re able to see situations in a less gloomy light. That’s because humor creates some psychological distance which decreases your sense of being overwhelmed.
Strengthens relationships: When you laugh with others, you feel closer and more connected with them.
The Paradigm of Faking a Smile
I presume you’ve heard of the saying “Fake it till you make it.” Well, this saying definitely holds true for smiling. That’s because the mere act of smiling can trick your brain into the belief that you’re happy. This in turn triggers actual feelings of happiness. That’s because the brain interprets smiles by the positions of the facial muscles. In fact, a study found that participants found a popular comic strip funnier if they were observing the comic strip while holding a pen between their teeth with their lips apart – similar to the movement of a smile. This fake smile then triggers the amygdala which in turn releases neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin that boost your mood and release stress.
The Ways to Add More Laughter to Your Life
As children, we used to laugh much more often. In fact, research indicates that children may laugh up to 400 times a day. However as adults life gets more serious, and adults end up laughing on average a mere 15 minutes a day. Here are some ways to bring more smiles and laughter to your life:
Force a smile if you have to
Since fake smiles can make you feel happy, simply smiling when you’re not in a positive state will trick your brain into feeling happy.
Tap into your inner child
Do you have kids in your life? Observe them and try to emulate them. Kids don’t take life seriously and are great at laughing at everyday things.
Share laughter with your friends
Are there people in your life who make you laugh? Spend more time with them! People who are fun and playful tend to have a knack for laughing at themselves, as well as at life’s absurdities. By spending more time with them, you may find their joie de vivre contagious.
Keep reminders everywhere to smile more
Fill your environment with objects that make you laugh or smile. For instance, you can utilize a screen saver that makes you laugh. You could put a stuffed toy on your desk as well as pictures of you and your family having fun and laughing.
Have some jokes handy
Telling jokes to others brings a smile not only to you but also to your listeners. And there could be added benefits. According to research, those who tell good jokes in the workplace are viewed as more confident, and some studies suggest that employees with a good sense of humor are more likely to receive a raise or promotion.
Seek out humor
Are you feeling down? Put on a funny movie or go see a comedy show for a quick humor boost.
Try and laugh at negative situations
Life can be frustrating, but by looking at the humor of a frustrating situation, you can improve your outlook. Or you can think of how humorous the situation will appear once you’ve conquered the situation and are looking back and recounting the situation to your friends. Then try and laugh at the humor of the situation now.
When you’re feeling sad, it’s harder to muscle up the courage to laugh and smile. However, by making a list of things you’re grateful for, you put a wedge between negative thoughts that can impede smiling and laughing. And it doesn’t have to take much time or energy. In the morning, just write down three things that you’re grateful for, and at the end of the day, write down three things you’re grateful for. By reflecting on the good things in your life, you’ll not only be happier but healthier too.
Practice mindful framing
Negative thoughts can have a big impact on our mood. By shifting to mindful framing, a visualization practice in which you create images in your mind of how you want to frame your thinking, you can change your thinking which in turn can encourage smiling and laughing. To optimize the visualization process, it’s vital that what you imagine is as realistic as possible in order to engage all your senses including your sense of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling.
For instance, if your unwanted thought is that you’re not going to meet a work deadline, try and focus on how your cubicle at the office looks, how your desk smells like, how your fingers feel on the keyboard, and the noise your keyboard makes as you type. And focus on a positive outcome: you meet your deadline, your boss gives you a high-five, and you and your co-workers go to your favorite restaurant to celebrate. That should put a smile on your face!
The Neuroscience of Smiling and Laughing
Laughter is postulated to be a vital part of social bonding. In fact, there’s a hypothesis that humans engage in laughter just like primates engage in social grooming habits. Primate grooming habits exist to strengthen bonds between primates. Since our social network is too wide to physically groom other humans, laughter is our way of social bonding.
Laughter, for the most part, is involuntary. This involuntary, true laughter has been coined Duchenne laughter, named after the French scientist Guillaume Duchenne. Duchenne was a neurologist who studied smiling and laughter in the 19th century. He discovered that we use 2 facial muscles when we smile; the zygomatic major and the orbicular oculi.The zygomatic major is a muscle that arches from each of the cheekbones to the corners of the mouth. It draws the mouth’s angle outward and upward. With this muscle, we can activate it when we want. The orbicularis oculi is a muscle that is found in the eyelids, and it controls the region around our eyes. Unlike the zygomatic major, we can’t activate it when we want to.
In terms of the regions of the brain that control laughter, two parts of the limbic system produce laughter. These are the amygdala and the hippocampus. These structures are triggered whenever we hear or see something that is funny. This triggering of the amygdala and the hippocampus in turn stimulate the motor region of the brain, the motor cortex to become active. This causes fifteen facial muscles to contract, as well as the zygomaticus major muscle to be stimulated. The respiratory system also reacts as the epiglottis closes up the pharynx in various proportions, leading to irregularities in air entry. When one laughs for an extended period and in intense situations, this causes the opening up of the tear ducts causing the release of some tears.
Involuntary, true laughter occurs due to funny stimuli. When it comes to the sonic structure of laughter, researcher Robert Provine found that a laugh consists of short 75-millisecond notes that re-occur every 210 milliseconds. It also has the same tonality, for example, “ho-ho-ho” or “ha-ha-ha.” Neuroscientists also refer to the activity of mirror neurons, which are neurons in the brain that are active when one is doing an activity as well as when one is watching others do the same activity. Mirror neurons allow us to copy or reflect the behavior we see in others. Hence it is thought that these mirror neurons are responsible for the phenomenon of contagious laughter, i.e., laughing when one sees other people laughing. This may explain why laughter is contagious.
Life can bring challenges that drag you down, but by making smiling and laughing your superpowers, you can overcome those challenges with strength and humor. So go ahead, take some time to add more laughter to your life, and watch your mood soar. And while you’re at it, pay it forward and bring more laughter and smiles to the lives of others.