Positive psychology interventions (PPIs) are the recommendations grounded in theory and empirical validity that are designed to enhance our personal wellbeing and experiences of happiness (Lomas, Hefferon & Ivtzan, 2014). PPIs include: meditation practice, creating gratitude journals and practising acts of kindness (Lyubomirsky, 2007). Whilst such tools could, arguably, make the transition from occasional lifestyle activities to everyday routine a lot easier than what we tend to assume, I feel one PPI in particular could be practised every day with little effort nor major adjustment.
Laughter is the best medicine
Most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Laughter has been found to ease the mind and relieve tension, however, in a corporate, overworked, tired, 9-5 world how often can you honestly say you share a giggle with a colleague, neighbour or friend? Do we make enough time to laugh? Do we prioritise seeing the people who we know are going to make us smile? Who can we be silly with?
This year, I have aimed to prioritise spending time with friends who make me feel the most empowered, motivated and happy. I have noticed a strong correlation between how comfortable I am with someone to how often I laugh around them. I wonder if this is because humour is buried so far deep from what we allow people to see in our day-to-day lives? To be able to freely laugh do we need to be around those who allow us to be comfortable and perhaps the most authentic versions of ourselves?
From the occasional hard day at work, I have no shame in prescribing myself a night with my best friend, watching our favourite TV programmes, eating food vital for the soul e.g. chocolate buttons and vegetable crisps. I think such prescriptions are vital for our overall wellbeing. I do not think it is surprising that I long to spend most of my time with the friend that I laugh the most with. Evenings with our friends can often be viewed as unproductive, but I fully believe they are critical to reward ourselves from the hardships of life, if we want to remain physically and mentally well.
Laughter and health
Laughter improves our health for a number of spectacular reasons. First, physical laughter triggers the release of serotonin. Serotonin is the chemical in our bodies that helps to regulate mood, reduce depressive symptoms and manage anxiety (Lucki, 1998). Evidence has found that laughter therapies, such as ‘laughter yoga’ can reduce symptoms of depression after just a thirty minute session! (MacDonald, 2004). With mental health therapies in such high demand, I think something as pure and genuine as laughter should not be overlooked when considering how to improve mood.
Similarly, laughter can result in a reduced level of stress hormones. If major stress hormones such as glucocorticoids and catecholamines are present within the body for too long we can start to become ill. Stress hormones negatively impact our immune system, can cause us to gain weight and can impact the cardiovascular system leading to increased risk of heart failure and heart attack. The anticipation of laughter alone reduces such stress hormone levels. I am not suggesting a night down the comedy club should replace the gym in your weekly routine, however, it cannot be ignored that laughter is physically good for you.
Laughter creates bonds
My personal reason for valuing the act of laughter so much is the bonds it creates between people. Laughter is something that can be shared during any human interaction that all parties can enjoy and savour. My own experiences have shown me that laughter can be an effective tool for relieving tension, putting people at ease by showing a ‘human’ side and simply enjoying. When we laugh our bodies release oxytocin. Oxytocin is released during our moments of loving interactions such as cuddling, breastfeeding and sexual intercourse.
So spend time with the people who make you laugh the most, it’s healthy!
Ivtzan, I., Lomas, T., Hefferon, K., & Worth, P. (2015). Second wave positive psychology: Embracing the dark side of life. Routledge.
Lucki, I. (1998). The spectrum of behaviors influenced by serotonin. Biological psychiatry.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). Health benefits: Meta-analytically determining the impact of well-being on objective health outcomes. Health Psychology Review, 1(1), 83-136.
MacDonald, L. C. M. (2004). A chuckle a day keeps the doctor away: therapeutic humor & laughter. Journal of psychosocial nursing and mental health services, 42(3), 18-25.
About the author: Amy graduated the University of Essex last year and is currently a second year MAPP student. Her dissertation on kindness and wellbeing is due to be published later this year.