Nothing beats a good laugh, the sort of laugh where tears are streaming down your face and your stomach aches. It is often said that ‘Laughter is the best medicine’; and it really does do you the world of good, it is incredibly healing for the body, mind, and spirit. Whilst I don’t want to create false hope by suggesting that it is a miracle cure to illness, it is important to acknowledge that there is much scientific research to show that laughter has immense therapeutic value. Humour can provide reprieve, refuge, and much-needed hope for the weary soul.
Some of you may have read the wonderful best-selling book by Norman Cousins called Anatomy of an Illness; he was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a condition that was meant to be terminal and incurable, it caused him constant pain and he recounts that he felt like he had been run over by a truck. He found that after watching funny movies, the associated belly laughing acted as an anaesthetic and gave him relief from the pain. He decided to make laughter part of his daily routine; healing didn’t happen overnight, but he ended up living twenty years longer than predicted. The beautiful Robin Williams’ movie based on the life of Patch Adams also shows the importance of using humour in a programme of recovery. If negative emotions damage our health, then surely positive emotions can help us to heal?
Laughter releases healing hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, it also lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels. Laughing often encourages a more positive mental attitude and undoes the negative effects of stress. Most importantly it creates a positive environment that will optimise healing.
The brains of those with Parkinson’s lose the ability to produce dopamine; leading to loss of movement, anxiety, and depression, and so, many patients take dopaminergic medications. However, laughter causes an increase in the neurotransmitter dopamine, and it can increase dopamine concentrations by up to 50 times. Laughter is clearly one way to help us to manage our symptoms. Parkinson’s is hardly a barrel of laughs and there are days when you can barely raise a smile, but it is important to start making your own dopamine and to ensure that laughter does not disappear from your life completely. As soon as we relax and are out of fight or flight mode, our bodies have the right circumstances to heal.
So, whether you have Parkinson’s or not, it is important to reflect on how much laughter there is in your life. We certainly can’t be laughing all of the time, life is hard, but it is important to give yourself a break and just escape; never postpone sitting down and devoting some time to just having a laugh.
I think that it’s time that we all brought more laughter into our lives. Gelotology is the term given to the science of laughter, and research shows that it can’t be the odd chuckle here and there; sustained laughing out loud is needed to produce dopamine. A hearty belly laugh for about 20 minutes will ensure that you enjoy the health benefits mentioned. It’s time to lighten up, take a little respite, and start scheduling in laughter breaks throughout the day, don’t leave laughter to chance, make time to laugh every single day. Search for things that make you laugh, be around people who make you laugh, have a playful approach to life, create an environment of joy and happiness, and seek pleasure in the simple things.
Change will not happen overnight, a return to happiness will take time, but trust that the positive steps that you are taking today are accumulating and are working. If you are under chronic stress, your body cannot heal itself, so make laughter into a daily habit, it’s free, and is just as important as any medicine or supplement that you may take. Laugh daily, not just for your health, but quite simply because it feels so good!