An old Yiddish proverb says, "What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul." Everyone knows that laughter makes you feel good and puts you in high spirits, but did you also know that laughter actually causes physiological responses that protect the body from disease and help your vital organs repair themselves? A good laugh can be compared to a mild workout, as it exercises the muscles, gets the blood flowing, decreases blood pressure and stress hormones, improves sleep patterns and boosts the immune system. Furthermore, a study by the John Hopkins University Medical School showed that humor and laughter can also improve memory and mental performance. Yet despite the fact that laughter has so many benefits, far too many of us forget to even crack a smile every once in a while, let alone laugh. The following are some ways to incorporate more laughter and joy in your life:
• Don't take life too seriously. We all have obstacles in life and we all make mistakes. There is no reason to beat yourself up over it. In fact, if you can laugh light-heartedly at your own foibles, you'll find that you give yourself that extra happiness and confidence boost that can get you over any hurdle. This also extends to other people. Try not to be too hard on others -- a smile and a chuckle goes a lot further than criticism.
• Find the humor in a bad situation. Sure, there are some situations that are genuinely sad and certainly not laughing matters. However, most situations in life have an ironic or ludicrous side to them. The next time you feel the stress levels rising, take a minute to think about the irony of the situation and allow yourself to laugh over the things you cannot control. This will decrease the amount of cortisol that your body produces due to stress, lowering your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and heart rate.
• Remind yourself of funny moments from the past. Perhaps a friend told you a great joke the other day, your children or pets did something amusing, or maybe you watched a funny movie recently that had you in stitches. Call on these memories frequently, especially when you are feeling sad, angry or stressed. Sometimes just reliving a funny moment can cause the endorphins to kick in, which act as natural painkillers and mood boosters.
• Surround yourself with fun people who like to laugh a lot. As the saying goes, mirthful laughter is contagious, so make a point to seek out positive people who aren't afraid to laugh at themselves and who have a knack for finding humor in life's situations. Young children are especially adept at finding laughter and joy in everyday moments.
• Get a pet. Animals are great for boosting happiness and encouraging laughter because they love to play and have fun, and they often do things that are amusing without even realizing it. In addition, studies show that people with pets have lower levels of depression and stress and are less likely to suffer from heart disease.
If you can find a reason to laugh every day, you'll find that your mood will improve, your relationships with others will seem more meaningful and effortless, and life's hurdles won't seem so daunting. Moreover, your body, mind and soul will reap the health benefits of this natural and free medicine.
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