Dr. Mental health expert Olivia Remes explains how laughter can help us through the darkest days and even extend our lives.
Coping with stress: According to the expert, laughter makes you happy
Life has its ups and downs, and sometimes those lows are particularly difficult to bear. The pandemic is a prime example: people don't know how to manage their stress, let alone when the uncertainty that affects everyone in one way or another will end.
When people go through stressful times, they try to deal with it in different ways - maybe they go for a walk, talk to friends, or meditate. And while all of these can help manage the stress, there is one powerful, but an often underrated, tool for coping with it: humor.
Humor can be a powerful antidote to stress. If instead of being serious, you joke about something, you are distancing yourself from the problem at hand. You take a step back and that gives you a clear perspective on things. This is important because, if left untreated, chronic stress can suppress the immune system, increasing the risk of early death.
We all have the ability to be funny, to take things with humor, to be cheerful. Especially as children - at the age of ten everything just seems funnier: a wrong autocorrect on the cell phone, the pet in the raincoat, a cat GIF. But when we grow up and think we should act like adults, we get more serious. We begin to suffer from the Acquired Amusement Deficiency Syndrome (AADS), as described by the author Paul McGhee in his book "Humor as Survival Training for a Stressed-Out World" (Author House, 2010).
When was the last time you cracked a joke or laughed? This does not mean the polite smile and feigned amusement at someone else's joke, but the extensive laugh that makes your stomach ache and the tears come.
The American journalist Norman Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in 1964, a debilitating form of arthritis that caused him severe pain and nearly blocked his jaw. His doctors thought the condition was irreversible. Faced with this grim reality, however, he found a cure himself: positive emotions.
Instead of falling into an emotional black hole and indulging in alcohol or other substances to deal with his fate, Cousins decided to check into a hotel room and do something rather unusual: laugh. He watched TV shows and movies that filled his body with positive emotions. "I made the joyful discovery that ten minutes of real gut-feeling laughter was numbing and gave me at least two hours of pain-free sleep," he wrote in a 1976 article for the New England Journal of Medicine.
It can completely change our perspective if we take life with a pinch of humor and see the funny in difficult situations. As Joel Goodman, founder of The Humor Project, says in his TEDx Talk, "humor counteracts frozen minds". Problems in which we would otherwise get lost seem a little less threatening and stressful. And the little respite we get this way could be just what we need to find some peace of mind and recharge our batteries to tackle the problems we face.
Humor can help us in many ways: At work, it can promote cohesion, relieve us from boredom, and maybe even make us enjoy what we do more.
After months of working from home, our tasks can seem monotonous and we may feel like we're going a little crazy. Here, too, humor can help and lift our spirits. One participant said in a study by the New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences on the subject of humor coping (that is, humor as a means of relieving stress): "You need an outlet at work ... If you have a little fun, that does it Work much more pleasant. "
How you use humor, or how it is applied to you by others, can affect your mental health. Good-natured humor can be positive for our well-being. If you like to make others laugh because you want to strengthen your bonds with the people around you and build friendships, it can protect you from anxiety and depression.
However, if you make fun of others in a mean way, or if you allow others to make fun of you, and they overdo it too often, it can increase your risk of anxiety and depression.
As our New Year's resolutions slowly begin to fade, humor should remain a staple of your "survival toolkit" and be brought out whenever you feel bad. Even if you don't find yourself funny - it doesn't matter. There are certain steps we can take to become more cheerful and see things from a funnier perspective.
Let's start with just noticing humor. That sounds simple, but the fact is that while we go about our daily life full of to-do lists and schedules, we don't pay enough attention to the things that could make us laugh and make us feel better and easier. But that's when we should allow ourselves some humor, and often. And the more we look for him, the more often we will find him (especially at this time).
An easy way to bring more humor into your life? Look for situations where you can consciously laugh more, such as an online party or a series that amuses you. When we actively seek humor and opportunities to laugh, we not only feel better, but we can also let our positive feelings rub off on other people. After all, emotions are contagious.
Humor coping isn't just about telling a joke or being funny. It's about finding ways to bring light into our lives. Ways to help us forget our worries and take a break, if only for a few moments. And that can have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing.
Dr. Olivia Remes is a University of Cambridge Mental Health Researcher and Life Coach.