Sunday, February 13, 2011

Giggle your Way to Health and Happiness

If you go down to the park today, you're sure of a big surprise....

I was down in St. David’s Park this morning just for a bit of a laugh. That’s right, a formal laugh with the Hobart Laughter Club.  Not a big crowd today -only six of us whereas there are normally about 13 or 14, but the sun was shining and it was great day for making  an idiot of oneself.  Annette, second from right in the picture, was today's cheerleader.

 If it seems a bit contrived having to get together expressly for the purpose of having a laugh, then let me tell you the strange looks you get aren’t half as strange as the ones you get if you laugh out loud in public by yourself. So here were making weird noises and practising different kinds of laughter for no apparent reason. There were belly laughs, the Bailey’s Irish cream laugh, Simon Says laughs, snide laughs, an angry laugh and one or two others which I have already forgotten. No jokes needed - just getting those laughter muscles working and getting a bit of fresh air into your lungs at the same time.

Fake it till you make it. You might just start out pretending to laugh but real laughter soon takes over
We all know laughter is good for us. The literature says it boosts immunity and raises endorphin levels the same way that exercise does and believe me it’s a lot more fun than grunting away on a running machine. This is a form of Yoga developed in India. There’s even a bit of scientific evidence to support the idea that just positioning your muscles in the right way improves not only your disposition, but your performance. In his book “59 Seconds” which talks about proven ways to improve your life in a very short time, Professor Richard Wiseman reports on a study in which subjects were made to solve maths problems while having a pencil clamped firmly in their teeth in a forced smile position. They not only reported a happier state of mind than controls with no such aids, but found the task much easier.
  

Laughter Club members at an earlier session

 It is certainly difficult to hold a negative thought at the same time as you are concentrating on your laughing technique and if you weren’t in a good mood to begin with, the antics are so funny, even the looks on the faces of passersby, that  you simply can’t help being swept along. Laughter is infectious. I came away feeling lighter, freer and didn't need a smoke for at least three hours.

 Still smiling despite difficulties, Shirley is a bright spot in anyone's day.
Others report similarly positive effects. Charmaine for instance, took part in a pilot study after being diagnosed with clinical depression. Since she started coming about two years ago, she has not been hospitalised again and is now taking only about a third of the antidepressants she used to need. Shirley has been coming for four years and despite two serious operations, still manages to radiate warmth and joy. Laughter has also been found to have very positive effect on cancer patients and others with serious illnesses. 

Afterwards there's usually time for coffee and a chat. This photo is from an earlier session as I couldn't stay today
Have we forgotten how to laugh?

I think it’s an indictment of our culture that we have to go to such extraordinary lengths to have a laugh these days. Life is a serious business and there are many things to worry about  –if it isn’t our own problems, our health, our job, our children or our finances, there is always the economy, global warming, floods and politics.
If it’s all getting you down, go and visit a laughter club near you.  They are now in more than  60 countries including Germany,  Malaysia, Peru, Japan, Denmark and  the UK and have at least 6001 members (that last one is me). One of the really nice things is that it doesn't cost anything and there is no registration or form filling - you simply join in.
If you are interstate and want to know where you nearest club is, try http://www.laughteryoga-australia.org/about-laughteryoga.html

Still not convinced? Then check out the following clip by John Cleese, who like many comedians, suffered from severe depression.



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