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Managing the weight of our physical bodies is a priority for most of us. Like it or not, we do our best to listen to our doctors, read, study, become pro-active, then decide and re-decide to take good care of ourselves. We know that making healthy choices for our bodies is a long-term daily thing that doesn’t go away. Ever. There’s a high price now and in the future for pretending otherwise.
But what about our emotional health? Can we be in control of that? If so, how? Although not usually addressed as such, managing the emotional weight of our lives, through the roller coaster of emotions and events that goes with both daily life and the overall mortal journey, is not too different. Just like we can overeat without thought or control and experience weight gain and health challenges, it is very easy to let emotions take the upper hand, and end up with short and long-term health and emotional difficulties… problems that may easily be resolved or averted with a little preventative care.
(Please note that I am not talking about emotional situations that require the help of a professional, but day to day living for optimal peace and happiness.)
Is it possible that in the same way we choose to discipline ourselves and get out to walk, hit the gym or to choose veggies instead of candy, we could discipline ourselves to make healthy emotional choices, knowing that our happiness would increase and overall health be strengthened? In other words, in the same way that it’s a choice to respect and calendar the need and time for physical health, could we do the same for the health of our emotions and happiness by putting some activities on the calendar? Prioritizing them and then checking them off a list? What if we thought of our emotional health as a physical muscle that needed daily strengthening? And then took having some fun … as a serious health matter that is a priority to include several times each day?
The bad news is that we all have things that weigh us down, make our lives heavy and cause sadness. The good news is that we can control feeling better. We can be optimistic in the heaviest of challenges with activities that literally strengthen our emotional health and happiness muscle. The even better news is that they don’t take much time or effort at all! For example … smiling (even when you don’t feel like it) reading a funny story or whistling! How hard is that?
A revealing story from Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy (shared in the April 2014 Ensign) about President Monson is food for thought. He quotes President Monson as saying “We … can choose to have a positive attitude. We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails. In other words, we can choose to be happy and positive, regardless of what comes our way.”
He then shares this experience: “One day I was waiting outside the First Presidency boardroom. I had been invited there to take part in a meeting to discuss temple matters. I sat quietly outside the room, alone. I thought the First Presidency was already meeting and that I would be invited to join them in a few minutes.
As I sat there, I could hear someone walking down the hall whistling. I thought to myself, “Someone doesn’t understand proper protocol. You don’t go walking around whistling outside the office of the President of the Church.”
A moment later the whistler walked around the corner—it was President Monson! He was happy, and he was positive. He greeted me warmly and said, “I guess we’ll start the meeting in a couple of minutes.”
Even with the weight of the whole Church on his shoulders, he is an example of happiness and he always has a positive attitude. We should be that way. (Elder Willam R. Walker, April 2014 Ensign)
With that thought in mind, here’s a quick review of what laughter can do for us:
- Lower blood pressure
- Increase vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood
- Give a workout to the diaphragm and abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles
- Reduce certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline
- Increase the response of tumor- and disease-killing cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells
- Defend against respiratory infections–even reducing the frequency of colds–by immunoglobulon in saliva.
- Increase memory and learning; in a study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, humor during instruction led to increased test scores
- Improve alertness, creativity, and memory
Not to mention just plain old feeling better in every way … immediately! Add being able to approach friends and family in a good mood is another emotional benefit that prevents all kinds of disasters and bad days while building positive relationships.
The study of laugher for health, called gelotology is fairly new. It was brought to the public’s awareness in Norman Cousins’ memoir Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins found that comedies, like those of the Marx Brothers, helped him feel better and get some pain-free sleep. That’s because laughter helps the pituitary gland release its own pain-suppressing opiates.
Proving my point that laughter can and should be scheduled, another gelatologist, Indian physician Madan Kataria, has created a whole movement called “laughter yoga” with laughter yoga classes! Laughter yoga(Hasyayoga) is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laugher. It is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughter yoga is done in groups, with eye contact and playfulness between participants. Forced laughter soon turns into real and contagious laughter.
You can google Laughter Yoga to learn more, but I’m looking and hoping for a class in my community!
In a quick way without classes, what can we do to laugh more?
Number 1: Awareness! Perhaps enjoying more laughter and the resulting health benefits starts easily with simply accepting that we don’t have enough of it! One study I read said that babies and preschoolers laugh as often as 400 times a day, while adults are often doing well to work themselves up to 15 times a day, including mild chuckles. (How they measure how often pre-schoolers laugh, I don’t know. but this assessment must be a laugh-fest in and of itself.) When was your last big laugh? How often do you laugh every day? Ask yourself and be honest. One thing about healthy, kind laughter, you can never get too much of it, and chances are that most of us need more, even quite a bit more!
Number 2: Schedule It! If the first step to solving a problem is recognizing it, the second is taking action.
We can think of laugh therapy as a vitamin that we need daily. It doesn’t need to take much time to put it on our daily agenda as simply “Laugh 3 times today! Share 1 joke! Smile or whistle, even if you don’t feel like it, and get someone to smile back while you’re at it!”
We can choose to not feel guilty when we spend a few extra minutes with people or a video that makes us laugh, after all our health depends on it!
Where are good places for 2-3 daily laughs? Kids and pets are number one! If they’re not in your life, you can find them in the neighborhood on a walk, people watching at the mall, or Youtube. t’s up to us to take a good look and actively reach out to the people, circumstances and resources in our lives that bring pleasure and a smile, and a good laugh.
Here are my five favorites this week:
1) YOUTUBE. While there’s always plenty there, here’s my favorite this week, a darling little LDS girl named Claire singing “Part Of Your World.” Click HERE
2) GET TO THE LIBRARY: A child’s sense of humor is cultivated by stories and pictures. Even if there are no children in your home, a pile of clever picture books is often the best day brightener and good laugh of all. My favorite this week: “Queen of Style” by Utah author Caralyn Buehner. A bored Medieval queen takes a cosmetology course to perk up her life and beautifies every man, woman and child in her small kingdom, along with their sheep. Life lessons and laughs for kids of all ages … I just had to order my own copy at Amazon!
Don’t be reluctant to head to the children’s section and get a big stack of fun picture books. There’s often an adult level of humor woven into the story that only adults will catch, making them all the more rewarding for adult reading.
3) WHO IS IN YOUR LIFE? Take a good look and make sure there are some people with a fun spin on life in your immediate circle. Spend MORE time with them, and LESS with those that pull down. (Easier said than done, but your mental and physical health needs top billing too! Who makes you laugh and go call ’em today!) Be sure to spend some time with children and youth to make sure you’re getting a healthy dose of their good humor and smiles.
4) WHAT MADE YOU LAUGH IN THE PAST? Go back and enjoy! I had forgotten how much Chip ‘N Dale, the little cartoon chipmunks that drive Donald Duck crazy, tickle me. I laughed out loud again and again watching with my pre-school granddaughters recently. While we love Downton Abbey and our dramas, we need to lighten up with some old favorites too. What are yours? Just the fun memories of watching them in the past a lift and a laugh! A regular laugh fest for us is the old “Wonder Years” series on Netflix, “I Love Lucy” and “Andy Griffith” Kind of old, and maybe kind of corny, but sweet and good and often some real belly-laughs, and Barney gets funnier as the years go by.
5) Jimmy Fallon! What a talent for finding laughter and the humor in all things. Both his nightly show and then the uploaded quick clips on Youtube are an instant laugh, and cross a broad demographic of ages and interests. In fact, just listening to my 24-year-old returned missionary son Cooper laughing at his Youtube hashtag clips makes me laugh! He’s a good one to watch any time you need some feel good, clean fun. The fun he has while sharing his humor makes it all the richer (and funnier) for the viewer.
It is easy to think that we don’t “have time” for the things that bring laughter and fun to our lives, but realizing that it is essential for our health prioritizes it in a delightful important way. Go exercise that happiness muscle today!
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life, available HERE.
She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She and her husband Bob are the parents of five children and grandparents of ten. They are now happy empty nesters in Jackson Tennessee, close to Memphis where they center their online business, a very helpful herbal detox in keeping with the Word of Wisdom.