The best medicine

9 October 2013

Written by: Julia Szuflak

Since we first walked out of the cave, spear in hand ready to become the dominant species, laughter has been central to people.

Over the centuries, humour has been used to cure melancholy, to aid in recovery after surgery and to ease tension and stress.

Today, we might’ve put down the spear and evolved somewhat, but having a good chuckle is still as important.

According to Safe Work Australia, 36 per cent of workers experienced moderate or higher levels of psychological distress.

Fortunately, there are countless mediums designed to draw a laugh when you plonk yourself down in front of the TV after a hard day on the job.

There’s an old saying that a laugh a day keeps the doctor away. Whether this is an old wives tale or an anecdote that has become gospel over generations, it turns out to be pretty accurate.

According to the website Laughter Yoga, research conducted in India and the United States has proven that laughter reduces cortisol levels – the hormone responsible for stress – by up to 28 per cent. Laughter has also been found to decrease blood pressure.

And these aren’t the only benefits.

Colleen Templeman, Secretary of Laughter Clubs Victoria, says laughter has a wide range of benefits from decreasing stress to making you more productive.

“Laughter is natural, and you can do it anywhere,” Templeman says. “Sometimes, I just laugh when I am at home. You can even laugh in your head. It has the same effects.”

It can also greatly improve the functioning of the immune system and cardio-vascular system by mimicking the same effects as an aerobic workout. This increases the performance of these systems, as well as aiding stress management.

That settles it then. Laughter, regardless of the circumstance and situation, is brilliant.

Well, not entirely.

Dr Bruce Findlay, Senior Lecturer at Swinburne University, and Dr Graeme Galloway from the School of Psychological Science at La Trobe University, both agree that humour can be both positive and negative.

“Negative humour is not always a bad thing, but it depends on the context as it can also be used as a defence,” explains Dr Galloway.

Because people react differently to humour, the use of negative humour can cause unintentional harm, something that should be taken into account.

Dr Findlay believes too much negative humour can be dangerous saying “excessive put-downs of yourself in order to get a laugh are not good for your psychological health”.

In other words, laughter is really good for your body, but humour can be harmful if you are not careful.

However, Dr Findlay says humour can improve the mental health of those suffering with depression.

“It is hard to maintain two opposing emotions at the same time,” says Findlay.

According to Dr Galloway, humour therapies provide positive social support.

“Laughter Clubs are working so well, not just because of the benefits of laughter, but due to the important sense of belonging they bring about,” he says.

Seeing issues in a humorous way can redirect an individual’s perspective on a situation.

“People who incorporate humour and play into their daily lives find that it renews them and all of their relationships,” says Dr Findlay.

Laughter helps us to feel better mentally and physically and a good sense of humour can definitely improve our social lives.

So don’t hesitate to smile, laugh and make jokes because it is doing wonders for your health.

Julia SzuflakTHUMBJulia Szuflak is a third-year Bachelor of Media student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter: @JuliaSzuflak.