Glass Half Full
Look at the glass on the right- is it half empty or half full? Your attitude and perceptions of things can affect how you feel.
Laughter and positive thinking are a powerful force. A smile is inviting. Laughter is infectious. It brings us together and supports a sense of community, of belonging. Makes us feel better. Relieves tension in the heat of the moment. Helps us solve our conflicts. Helps us forget our worries –
at least for a short period of time. I often hear from people with Parkinson’s that “sometimes you have to laugh even when things are bad”.
So laughter makes us feel good. We all know that. But does laughter really have positive effects on our body’s physiology and chemistry. Claims exist that laughter helps the immune system, improves heart function, improves mood, enhances relaxation and releases chemicals such as endorphins and hormones. For those skeptics out there, that need evidence to support the healthy benefits of a smile and laugh or just cannot believe something so simple and good feeling is good for you, here is the evidence…
But is laughter really good medicine?
University of Pennsylvania psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman the founder of Positive Psychology thinks so. According to the Positive Psychology Center, http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/index.html, the field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. Positive psychology explores the factors that make life worth living, such as happiness, through the study of positive emotions, positive character strengths, and positive institutions.
The study of positivity and laughter is moving beyond psychology. Medical science now offers proof that positivity changes our body chemistry.
Laughter may reduce the effects of stress on our body. Researchers from Loma Linda University in CA measured lower levels of stress hormone cortisol after laughing.
Laughter may help cardiovascular function. Reseachers at Columbia University Medical Center analyzed 1,739 healthy adults who participated in the 1995 Nova Scotia Health Survey over a 10 year period . Study results recently published in the European heart journal showed that people who had what psychologists call "positive affect"--a generally upbeat, enthusiastic and content view of life--had a lower risk of heart disease. Researchers at the University of Maryland studied the direct effect of good cheer on our body physiology. This group found that blood vessels linings dilate increasing blood flow for better circulation when people were watching funny movies. This effect occurred after watching just 15 minutes and lasted up to 45 minutes. The opposite is also true- blood vessels constrict to reduce circulation when we are mentally stressed. laughter reduced constriction of blood vessels
Laughter improves blood sugar levels. People with diabeties had lower blood glucose level after a meal when they were showed a comedy versus listening to a tedious lecture.
Laughter helps pain. Many studies show that laughter reduces our perception of pain associated with disease.
Whether laughter directly changes our body chemistry or its benefits are due to the psychological impact of sharing good feelings is not known. What is known is that laughter makes you feel good, makes others feel good.
Learn more about the powerful role your mind plays in health and wellness in the Mind Power series:
The Power of a ‘Sugar Pill’. We review the mysteries of the ‘placebo effect’ and how this shapes our understanding of research and treatment effects.
Find your Sugar Pill. ‘If you believe it, it will happen’. The placebo effect is not all bad. Learn easy strategies to harness you placebo effect.
Silence the Mind. Don’t let ‘life’s moments pass you by’. Being present in the moment can lead to greater joy, awareness, and new experiences. Dr. Jan Fite, PhD a clinical psychologist at the University of Washington discusses the power of mindfulness practice.
Author: Monique Giroux, MD