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16 Jul 2019

Laugh Lots, Live Long

​​A daily dose is contagious in a most delightful way

Proverbs 17 V 22 teaches a cheerful heart is good medicine. Over the millennia, this revelation has evolved into what is now the universal belief that laughter is the BEST Medicine. Research confirms there is truth to this humour with benefits flowing into all aspects of life and ageing well.

The physiological function of laughing boosts the immune system and improves resistance to disease. It does this by decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. In this way, resistance to a myriad of diseases is improved. Laughter also triggers the release of the body’s natural ‘feel good’ chemical endorphins.

There are social benefits to having a good laugh. It creates a feeling of closeness and common identity—sharing a joke so that everyone can connect with the humour. Dating back to the times when we were hunter/gatherers, good-natured teasing is one way for acknowledging, and accepting, one another’s flaws.

Anecdotally, there is no question that laughter is good for us. Taking research to a whole other level of study comes from a 15-year Norwegian based study of humour involving 53,556 women and men. The team assessed the cognitive, social and affective components of humour using a validated questionnaire tested for reliability and validity. They examined death from specific conditions: heart disease, infection, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Findings confirm the clear link between sense of humour and mortality.

The laughing-into-longevity stakes definitely is where women come up trumps. High scores on the humour ‘scale’ were associated with 48% less risk of death from all causes, a 73% lower risk of death from heart disease and an 83 percent lower risk of death from infection. 

Men did not fare so well with the only clear link as the risk of death from infection. Those with high humour scores had a 74 percent reduced risk. The gender differences could be due to a slight decline in humour scores as the men aged, the study suggests.

Heavenly humour

On another plain, there is an inexorable link between humour and ‘the heavens’. Swiss theologian Karl Barth, says Selwyn Foundation Director of Spiritual Care Caroline Leys, captured the heavenly aspect of humour saying Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.

“Underlying all that good physiology is the simple fact that when we are laughing we are also on the way to generally feeling joyful. We are open to ideas and take challenges in our stride. The connection with others - especially those sharing the humour – happens in a way where we no longer feel isolated. We move into a place of creativity experiencing a sense of childlike delight.

Caroline Leys says this transformation is exactly what Christian tradition suggests is a hallmark of the presence or influence of God.

“Joy is one of those sensations and capacities that has a completely transformational power. It bubbles up as if from an artesian well from the very core of our being. It then flushes away all that clogs or clutters up our mental plumbing. When we experience radical transformation to our thinking, or emotional worldview, these are the moments when we start to talk about the influence of the numinous, or presence of God.”

On the one hand, laughter is so familiar to us all, says Caroline Leys, yet there is a mystery and magic to the experience.

“It’s as if we tapped into some kind of power that is beyond us and has “drawn near”. What would it be like if we saw that this is part of our design and essential nature transforming us with the drawing in of each breath? This then is how laughter connects us immediately with the Grace of God.

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