Have You Heard the One About…

tss-april-2013V2web-11-300x179If you’ve been feeling happier the last few weeks, it could be due to the arrival of spring, the onset of daylight savings time, the holidays shared with family–or the fact that April is National Humor Month.

Lots of things can be funny – slapstick, satire, irony—but most have at least a tinge of truth to them. Like one of Yogi Berra’s most well known malapropisms, 90% of the game is half mental.

Humor often results when our brains, trying to resolve two incongruent ideas, look for any unexpected and pleasing connections between them. Laughter reduces the pressure of this internal conflict. What Aristotle said over 2300 years ago takes this into account: The secret to humor is surprise and is similar to what Groucho Marx said a mere 60 years ago: Humor is reason gone mad.

Psychologists have found numerous benefits of humor, particularly on our mental and physical health and well-being. Here are just a few reasons laughter is the best medicine, with some take-home quips to keep you engaged:

Humor exercises the brain and has similar value to exercising the body. Journalist Norman Cousins noted, when he was seriously ill: Laughter is internal jogging. Research indicates that one-minute of belly laughing boosts heart rate and breathing equal to 10 minutes on a rowing machine, bringing increased oxygen to tissues – and burning calories in the process.

Watching comedy lowers stress levels, partially inoculating us from distress. Laughter is an instant vacation, quipped Milton Berle. Laughter can improve the immune system response, triggering the release of endorphins, increasing the number of immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. A good sense of humor is a plus in building resiliency.

Laughter keeps us sharp cognitively, improving insight, language, memory, even intelligence. Famed attorney Clarence Darrow believed: If you lose the power to laugh, you lose the power to think. Various studies have found that being exposed to comedy significantly increases creative thinking, leads to better rates of solving brain-teasers and problems, produces greater spatial thinking ability, and raises the tolerance to pain.             

Humor brings us together. It is a way of connecting that cuts across all lines and brings balance to our lives. As British comedian John Cleese sees it: I’m struck by how laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy.             

Not all kinds of humor are related to these kinds of positive results. When it turns dark, self-punishing and relentless, it can lead to higher rates of depression, lower self-esteem and greater anxiety. Nevertheless existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard postulated: The more one suffers, the more, I believe, has one a sense for the comic. 

So as National Humor Month draws to a close, enjoy the cordiality and fun with your friends and family. It sure can’t hurt and it’s been said: Those who laugh, last. 

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