As it turns out, the human brain is wired to respond positively to laughter and smiles, generating ‘feel-good’ chemicals and this can be of great help for depression. The wiring is so strong that the brain responds even when we smile at ourselves in the mirror or simulate laughing with enthusiasm. You can even stretch your mouth into a smile shape by using a chop stick or a pen across the mouth to pull back the corners.
There is a complex reciprocal interaction between the body and the mind and what happens in one reflects in the other. If you change the quality of your thoughts, you will feel a change in body behavior. Conversely, if you bring a change in your body behavior you will experience a change of your mental state. All physiological functions are connected. Stress or relax one and you will stress or relax them all. In the bigger picture: Stress or relax your body, and you will stress or relax your head.
When we smile for example, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of happiness. Interestingly enough, this effect works both ways. The release of dopamine when we feel happy causes us to smile, and the mere act of smiling causes the brain to release dopamine, which in turn makes us feel happy.
The counter-intuitive approach to depression help: Laugh!
This is not just about dopamine. Laughter can be of great help with depression because it causes the body to release into the bloodstream high concentrations of different hormones and neuropeptides related to feelings of happiness, bonding, tolerance, generosity, compassion and unconditional love. Let’s call this a joy cocktail.
The presence of this joy cocktail precludes the production of other hormones and neuropeptides that are related to feelings of hatred, fear, violence, jealousy, aggression and the emotions associated with war and oppression. It is impossible to sustain feelings of hate and the desire to fight with someone with whom you are laughing unconditionally.
Give laugh therapy a try. You don’t have to feel good or be happy to laugh. When you change, the world around you changes. When you feel good, you are more likely to address the challenges you have to face constructively and with a positive attitude.
Why better moods = better health
It is said in the King James Bible “A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)
This is still a modern medical statement. You may have heard the claim that the issue with many people is not what’s wrong with their body, but that they have a broken spirit. People usually don’t die of cancer, chronic ailments or other similar causes but of depression. Here is why:
We now know that the brain and immune system represent a single, integrated system of defense, and that our moods and emotions affect our health.
In 1985, research by neuropharmacologist Candace Pert revealed that neuropeptide-specific receptors are present on the cell walls of both the brain and the immune system. This showed their close association with emotions and suggested mechanisms through which emotions and immunology are deeply interdependent. Showing that the immune and endocrine systems are modulated not only by the brain but also by the central nervous system itself has had an impact on the understanding of emotions as well as of disease.
Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can impact the body by bringing more stress into the system and decreasing its immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts and emotions trigger neurochemical changes that reduce the immunosuppressive effects of stress.
This is why reliable and sustainable therapeutic approaches to laughter such as Laughter Wellness and Laughter Yoga are so important. It disrupts the cycle of negativity and promotes a happier mood state. This has a lot to do with the fact that dopamine (which floods into your system when you are positive) has two functions. Not only does it make you happier, it turns on all the learning centers in your brain, allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.
Laughter improved mood and positive affect in healthy adults.
- Foley E, Matheis R, Schaefer C. Effect of forced laughter on mood. Psychol Rep. 2002;90 (1):184.
- Neuhoff CC, Schaefer C. Effects of laughing, smiling, and howling on mood. Psychol Rep. 2002;91 (3 pt 2):1079-1080.
- Szabo A, Ainsworth SE, Danks PK. Experimental comparison of the psychological benefits of aerobic exercise, humor, and music. Humor. 2005;18 (3):235-246.
Laughter and humor improved quality of life in depressed patients.
- Walter M, Hänni B, Haug M, et al Humour therapy in patients with late-life depression or Alzheimer’s disease: a pilot study. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2007;22 (1):77-83.
- Takayanagi K. Laughter education and the psycho-physical effects: introduction of smile-sun method. Jpn Hosp. 2007 Dec; (26):31-35.
Laughter promoted psychological wellbeing in different clinical settings.
- Erdman L. Laughter therapy for patients with cancer. Oncol Nurs Forum. 1991;18 (8):1359-1363.
- Schmitt N. Patients’ perception of laughter in a rehabilitation hospital. Rehabil Nurs. 1990;15 (3):143-146.
- Tennant KF. Laugh it off. The effect of humor on the wellbeing of the older adult. Geronto Nurs. 1990;16 (12):11-17.
- Borod M. SMILES – toward a better laughter life: a model for introducing humor in the palliative care setting. J Cancer Educ 2006;21 (1):30-34.
- Dean RA, Gregory DM. Humor and laughter in palliative care: an ethnographic investigation. Palliat Support Care. 2004;2 (2):139-148.
- Saper B. The therapeutic use of humor for psychiatric disturbances of adolescents and adults. Psychiatr Q. 1990;61 (4):261-272.
- Abel MH. Humor, stress and coping strategies. Humor.2002;15 (4):365-381.
- Nezlek JB, Derks P. Use of humor as a coping mechanism, psychological adjustment, and social interaction. Humor. 2001;14 (4):395-413.
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