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You’ve racked up many skills and accomplishments in your lifetime. But the one you’re most likely to overlook is a doozy. It’s your sense of humor—and it’s essential to a happy, healthy life.
Scientists are learning that the ability to see the humor in life makes you more attractive to others, helps you relieve psychological stress and can improve your physical and mental health. Laughter also has been found to heighten creativity and enhance attentiveness and the ability to make decisions.
In short, a good sense of humor qualifies as a critical life skill. It’s also likely to be one of your most amusing traits. What could be more entertaining than sharing a good laugh with friends, cracking up over a screwball comedy or trading knock-knock jokes with the grandchildren?
The role of humor in health and well-being is the subject of considerable research. Here some of the key ways finding the humor in any situation can work for you:
· On a short-term basis, a hearty laugh can stimulate your organs, calm tension and tamp down the response to stress. The oxygen-rich air you take in when you laugh enhances the function of your lungs, heart and muscles. It also boosts endorphin production in your brain. A good laugh also increases, then decreases your heart rate and stress response, resulting in a sense of relaxation.
· On a long-term basis, laughter improves your immune system by releasing neuropeptides that help fight illness and stress. And, as most of us have experienced firsthand, laughter improves your mood by decreasing the symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also alleviates fear.
· It can help prevent or treat illness by changing brain chemistry and potentially boosting the immune response. Humor therapy, as it’s called, is especially helpful in the treatment of chronic diseases including asthma and heart disease. It’s also helpful to caregivers who can be at high risk of becoming ill. Humor therapy helps to relieve stress. In fact, some hospitals are adding “humor rooms” to help patients recover from a wide range of illnesses.
· A good laugh enhances brain function. Subjects who laughed their way through a 20-minute funny video performed better on memory tests and had lower amounts of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva, according to a study at Loma Linda University.
· Laughing is good for the heart. Researchers at the University of Maryland found that laughing increased blood flow to the heart by an average 22% in 19 of 20 subjects. "What that suggests, at the very least, is that laughter on a regular basis will undo some of the excess stress we face in our everyday lives," said cardiologist Michael Miller, adding that "patients at risk for cardiovascular disease should loosen up a bit."
· Laughter is a comfort and a joy. As one of the most contagious of human responses, humor is a shared pleasure. It can be reassuring, no matter what your age. The results of communal laughter are increased optimism and better communication.
Looking for a way to increase your own output of giggles and guffaws? Once the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, why not drop in for a performance at Chicago Improv at the Woodfield Mall or take a class at Laugh Out Loud Theater in Schaumburg? Friendship Village also has its own Improv Club, although it’s currently on hiatus. In the meantime, check out any of the dozens of humor and joke sites online—and remember to share the laughter with a friend.