Seeing the funning side

Having a laugh might be the most sensible thing you can do today.

I was prompted to remember an occasion many years ago during my nursing training.

A group of us had gone to the dining room for dinner one evening.

There were 40-50 people there, nursing and physio students, doctors, nurses, orderlies, admin and kitchen staff, a real mix of ages and occupations.

One of my fellow nursing students walked in, sat down and put a small box on the table. We didn't take much notice until she flicked a switch and the thing started emanating a raucous laugh.

We rolled our eyes, muttered ''lame'' and kept eating.

Within five minutes the dining room was full of people doubled over, crying with laughter, completely immobilised and unable to eat, including those of us who muttered ''lame''!

I'm not sure I would have believed that were possible if I hadn't been there to witness it.

I'm sure I'd have risked dismissing my friends' description of dinner that evening as being a bit exaggerated.

We chortled for weeks afterwards when talking about it.

It was just plain good fun and it felt good! Even recalling the event now has me breaking out in a grin.

I love having a good laugh and spending time with family and friends swapping a bit of good healthy banter is something I enjoy.

Over the years in both nursing and coaching I've seen appropriate humour and laughter used to help build relationships, bridge language gaps, gain trust and generally lighten the load for people.

Dr ''Patch'' Adams, an American physician understood this well and incorporated laughter and clowning into his medical care and social activism.

Did you know New Zealand has its own clown doctors?

We do, the Clown Doctors of New Zealand Charitable Trust.

You can check them out at clowndoctors.org.nz.

Laughter may not cure cancer but mentally and physically what can a good laugh do for us?

A University of Maryland study found we are 30 times more likely to laugh with friends than when on our own.

Often there may not be an obvious joke.

It seems laughter is as much a form of communication, genuinely connecting with others and showing understanding, as it is a specific response to a funny event or comment.

Yes it is contagious!

Brain scans have proven that laughter can be caught and the brain can tell the difference between a real and a forced laugh.

In personal ads and dating websites the most frequently requested personal quality is having a sense of humour, over and above anything else.

It seems studies have shown that we find strangers who laugh more attractive than those who don't.

Laughter has been shown to increase feelings of personal satisfaction, even in difficult situations.

Feelings of depression and anxiety are lessened with laughing.

A good rollicking laugh gets us taking good deep breaths and filling our lungs with oxygen-rich air.

We're not very good at using our lungs effectively.

Most of us breathe up shallowly into our shoulders rather than deeply down into our belly.

So a good hearty laugh is a bonus for every cell in our body that needs oxygen to survive (that would be all of them!).

Laughing stimulates our heart, muscles and lungs in a good way, helping release feel-good endorphins into our bloodstream.

Endorphins are also the body's natural painkillers so there's some evidence to suggest a good laugh may temporarily ease pain.

Laughter stimulates circulation and aids with muscle relaxation resulting in a lovely relaxed feeling afterwards.

Laughter and positive thoughts release chemicals into our bloodstream that help counter the effect of the stress hormones roaming around our system.

Stress hormones are known to decrease our immunity, so potentially laughter helps our immune system to function better.

For older folk, laughter has been found to improve short-term memory by decreasing one of the stress hormones that is believed to hinder memory.

So it seems that there are some mental and physical benefits to having a good giggle.

If you want to boost your immune system, be more attractive to others, connect with your friends, lessen feelings of anxiety and depression, remember more and just generally feel better, go see a funny movie, read the cartoons in the daily paper, listen to some comedy, look for the humour in your day.

As a Yiddish proverb says: ''What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul''.

Laughter is good for us, no joke!

 Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach. For more go to www.fitforlife coaches.co.nz.

Twitter:@jan-aitken

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