The Nine Essentials of Health #5: Laughter/Active Appreciation
You know when you just see an image and you can’t stop laughing…in fact, as you look at it you laugh even harder, until you’re doubled over, you can’t breathe, and your friends are laughing at your feverish laughter?
Like almost everyone around Connecticut (and elsewhere, I expect), I was struck with profound sadness by the tragedy in Newtown, only to be enraged that the Westboro Baptist Church Tweeted it wants to come to Connecticut and picket the funerals of the dead. I have to tell you; this latter group really challenges my commitment to free speech in America. I still believe in free speech, but really, my brothers and sisters, I do NOT like what this group has to say!
It is so easy to lose faith and get so angry at the human condition when things so clearly go wrong. It is also easy to lose faith in humanity during these times. Despite my knowledge that people can be beautiful in their expression of love and creativity, sometimes the knowledge of the human capacity for malice, bitterness, hate and destruction can be overwhelming, and maintaining my hope for our future can be difficult.
Also, as a parent, I knew I had to say something to my daughter to keep her connected to life in a positive way, and to let her know she was not alone in her confusion, anger and fear. Such is the proper duty of a parent – not to be Superhuman, but to be encouraging, supportive and present. But how was I going to be there for her when I was finding it difficult to be present for myself?
Yesterday, I was “faking it until I made it,” and my daughter and we went out to Cosi for a spell. I indulged my daughter’s suggestion of surfing Youtube with her while we supped on their hummus platter. One video had a series of comments, and one of the comments was made by someone who had adopted the following image as their avatar:
Something about this bunny seemed to reflect how I was feeling inside, and it tickled me in just the way I needed tickling. You would have thought I was thirteen years old, the way I doubled over in the booth, open-mouthed, screaming huge tracks of laughter, smacking the cushion searching for breath between guffaws.
My daughter did not think the picture was as funny as I did, but thought my reaction was so funny that she began laughing as hard as I was; we both sunk to the seats of the booth with hysterical laughter, tears streaming out of our eyes. Thank the gods it was a rainy Sunday afternoon, so there were few witnesses to our spectacle.
I have to tell you, now that it’s a day later and I can look at this rabbit without laughing (as much), I’m so glad I ran across it. The resulting story is the perfect segue to #5 in the series The Nine Essentials of Health: Laughter/Active Appreciation.
As stated to in The Nine Essentials of Health: #4, Meditation/Prayer, anger, depression, confusion, sullenness, and sadness has terrible effects on the body, and they begin immediately upon the experience of the emotional waves. Immunity goes down, digestion problems arise, heart rate increases, breathing becomes more shallow, our skin becomes less elastic and sags, and inflammatory markers start to affect nervous, muscle, joint, and skeletal tissue. If these markers continue for an extended period of time, all kinds of preventable chronic diseases develop, up to and including death. Meditation/Prayer can bring the emotional body into equilibrium or, even better, into an ecstatic state, which promotes health on every level.
Laughter and its cousins, intellectual and artistic appreciation, provide the same health benefits as meditation, and like the more destructive emotions, can deliver the benefits of creative emotion in large doses immediately upon the experience. With laughter and awe, our bodies respond with a decrease in cortisol, 3,4-Dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC) and adrenaline, and an increase in beta endorphins and human growth hormone (HGH) which boosts our immune systems.
When we subject ourselves to large, consistent doses of laughter and the thrill of intellectual discovery, our inflammatory markers drop, our heart rate is rich and healthy, our breathing is deep and potent. Our skin becomes more pliant and supple, our nervous systems experience joy and anticipation, our muscle, joint, and skeletal tissue experience not only pain relief, but they thrive with the body’s preparation of more wonderful things to experience on the horizon. Life expectancy increases, some say as much as five years, in a happy, fulfilled person, and certainly quality of life increases.
When we are able to laugh, we are able to approach situations that are normally unbearable and make healthful assessments of them. We are able to connect with others and help raise spirits instead of allowing everyone to collectively fall into sullen isolation. We are able to take ourselves less seriously, and in so doing, we enable ourselves to reengage in a healthy manner in our society and the world.
When we allow ourselves to laugh, we ideally avoid destructive attitudes and behaviors that lead to horrible tragedy. We have capacity to listen, to act calmly, and to forgive.
Likewise, when we are able to find intellectual and artistic ferment, life-enriching hormones and neurotransmitters come into play. Serotonin and dopamine rise at complimentary levels, blood and nourishment shunts to the prefrontal cortex, digestion maximizes its resources to promote stimulation to the nervous system, muscles, joints and connective tissue become pliant and full of energy so that we can bring our ideas to fruition and thus help society in this way. We become healthful, useful members of our world, and fine examples for all of us to follow.
Saying that there is no time for recreation, that there is no time for pursuing what stimulates your intellect and creativity, and experiences that bring laughter and joy are frivolous, useless time wasters is missing the point of your existence entirely, and you will kill your body with misery. It is just that simple.
It works like this: yes; we have time to pursue what we have always wanted to pursue, because this is our life, here and now, and if we do not take time for ourselves, we will never have it. Tomorrow never comes, and we have “nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays,” as Professor Harold Hill so eloquently put it in the play, The Music Man.
If we do not take time out to experience the joy, humor, and wonder of life, we will never appreciate all that we can experience and we will make others miserable around us. Ultimately, we will all die lonely, miserable, and sick.
Effective leaders laugh. They also influence by example. Studies show that leaders laugh more than subordinates do; so leaders, get out there and teach your subordinates to laugh like you do. Luckily, you have mirror neurons on your side. Mirror neurons encourage people to mimic behavior like laughter. That is why watching a video of someone laughing makes us laugh. We are literally wired to laugh when others laugh. We are wired to appreciate the creative and intellectual merits of others, as well!
Also, leaders, make certain that your employees and/or assistants are in appropriate departments that encourage their creativity and engagement. Their productivity will go up with their enjoyment, everyone’s health will improve, and you will save on health insurance benefit costs. What’s more, everyone will go to work happy. Win-win all around.
So make sure you take 1-3 hours out of your day to pursue your bliss. Make sure you challenge your brain cells with the things you love. If you don’t know what that is, go find it. You will. Take time to find the humor in things about yourself and your response to life. Allow others to experience your humanity through mirth and appreciation. Humor and awe lead to appreciation.
After my daughter and I finally calmed down, I copied the bunny picture with the intention of using it as my avatar for a while (I changed my mind, so don’t bother looking). As the afternoon of camaraderie progressed, we came back organically to the shootings in Newtown, were able to explore the situation with less tension. We were able to talk about it, read about different reports on the Internet, and reflect on the heroic actions of teachers and authorities, the lives they gave, and the emotions we felt. Every time we came to a point when we both acknowledged anger and confusion, we called up the bunny and laughed at ourselves.
In this way, we were able to reflect about ways that we could improve our relationships with others and perhaps help others deal with the aftermath of pain and suffering. We talked about what the future can hold, and began to pursue creative, healthy ways of approaching life. We talked about how music can be a tool for healing, and listened to some wonderful music that sparked our ability to appreciate the art of music while held hands and cried for the dead. At the end of the day, when we hugged, we were both present in our appreciation of one another.
In conclusion, in order to illustrate the power of both #4: Meditation and Prayer, and #5 Laughter/Creative Appreciation, please take a moment to listen to this lovely fan video of the beautiful song, Center of the Sun by Conjure One.
Be well, everyone. As my friend, Gadget Ferdinand says, “Don’t hate. Learn to appreciate.”
I love and believe in us all.
Next time, #6: Proper Posture
Truthtime question: When learning of senseless acts of violence and hatred, are you able to calibrate your feelings so that they do not physically sicken you?
Posted on 12/17/2012, in Uncategorized and tagged 3 4-Dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, Connecticut, Growth hormone, Health, HGH, Laughter, Mental health, United States, Westboro Baptist Church, Wine tasting descriptors, Youtube. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.