While emphasizing that fun is hardly a cure-all, the medical establishment is showing an increasing interest in the effects of the positive emotions on health, says Alison Crane, R.N. founder and executive director of the American Association for Therapeutic Humor, headquartered in Skokie, Illinois.
A good laugh, notes Crane, changes blood pressure (blood pressure rises during laughter, but lowers below the starting point afterward), reduces muscle tension, improves digestion and if-you laugh so hard that you cry – releases tears that contain bacteria-killing agents. Research also indicates that laughter may trigger the release of catecholamines, hormones that increase alertness.
Perhaps even more important than the physical effects, says Crane, are the psychological benefits of humor and laughter. Reduction of tension and anxiety is one of the most important.
Laughter improves communications between people, notes Crane. ” A friend of mine once noted that shared laughter creates community. If you’re trying to create a cohesive group in business, with friends or family, laughter can facilitate that sense of belonging.” Fear, loneliness and isolation disappear in shard laughter.
“There are so many people in our culture walking around tied up in knots because they won’t give themselves the release of laughter and play, they won’t permit themselves that healing embrace,” says Matt Weinstein, Ph.D., corporate consultant and founder of Playfair, of Berkeley, California, a company that teaches adults how to have fun.
A common excuse, Dr. Weinstein says, is, “‘ I am busy. I am under pressure here. I don’t have time for that stuff.’ The truth is, that’s the time when people need it most. Laughter and play is a total life philosophy, not just a good-time philosophy.