Don't Overlook This One Superpower (You definitely have it!)

In 1964, the journalist Norman Cousins took a really stressful trip to Russia. Work was wearing on him, and on top of that, his surroundings were pretty unhealthy, exposing him to dangerous fumes like diesel exhaust. Those factors, doctors believed, came together to cause the grave illness that overtook him soon after: ankylosing spondylitis, a degenerative spinal disease with a grim prognosis. Cousins was told he had a 1/500th chance of survival. Over time, he would lose all physical mobility.

Stress, combined with a weakened immune system, had caused this horrible condition, doctors said. Well, if that's true, then the opposite of stress should heal it, Cousins reasoned. And so he set about creating positive emotions that would boost his immune system.

Cousins checked himself into a hotel, where he pumped himself with vitamin C and embarked on an experimental form of therapy: laughter. He watched Marx brothers movies, read humorous books, and focused his mind on all things funny.

It worked. Not only did his condition steadily improve, but within six months, he could walk, and within two years, he went back to work full-time at the Saturday Review. Ten minutes of hearty laughter, he said, would give him two hours of peaceful, pain-free sleep – which not even morphine could do.

Doctors were flummoxed, but Cousins wasn't. He wrote a book about it – Anatomy of an Illness– which kickstarted a slew of scientific studies on how laughter affects the brain, body, and health. Since then, researchers have discovered that laughter is one of the most powerful tools we have to stay healthy and happy.

Here are some of their findings:

  • Laughter improves every system in your body. Studies have shown that laughing stimulates your muscles, boosts oxygen intake, releases endorphins, shuts down the stress response, and stimulates circulation. And those are just the short-term benefits! Over time, it can strengthen your immune system, improve your mood, release natural pain killers, and enhance your quality of life.
  • It decreases stress. This one might be the most obvious, but don't underestimate it. Stress is an extremely destructive force in our lives, wreaking havoc on our immune systems, nervous systems, and physical and mental health. Stress causes headaches, fatigue, stomach problems, muscle tension, increased inflammation (which is responsible for all manner of diseases) – and the list goes on. Stress blocks creativity, lowers energy, and overall makes us feel like crap.
  • Laughter inspires feelings of hope and emotional closeness, which not only releases more beneficial hormones like oxytocin, but also helps improve and strengthen those relationships over time.
  • And it actually burns calories! Sure, it's not the same as running ten miles, but studies show that about 15 minutes of laughing a day can burn up to 40 calories – which, over the course of a year, can trim off about 4 pounds!

So how can we bring more laughter into our life?

Maybe you've already watched all the comedies on Netflix, or maybe you're just not in the mood for a giggling fit right now. But fear not. There are dozens of tried and true ways to laugh more– and I promise, the more you laugh, the more things you'll find to laugh about.

Here are some of my favorite ways to laugh more.

  • Smile. This is the equivalent of running a mile by taking one step. Smiling is the beginning of laughter, and when you do it genuinely, it's almost impossible to feel bad.
  • Pull up a YouTube video. There are thousands of hilarious comedians out there – so find one (or several) who really tickle you. Keep their videos handy so you can pull them up quickly when you need a pick-me-up.
  • Hang out with kids. Children laugh about 600 times a day, while for us adults, that number is between 15-100. We're so serious! Yet laughter is contagious, so either get down on the floor with your kiddos, or if you don't have any at home, set up a Zoom call with your friends' kids. Pets will work too – they may not laugh, but they sure are funny!
  • Ask your friends for jokes. Even bad jokes can turn into something funny, especially when they come from a loved one – because chances are, it'll turn into an inside joke.
  • Find a laughter yoga session or workshop. What on earth are those, you ask? Just what they sound like – programs that integrate laughter with yoga! It's a natural combination, because both laughter and yoga directly impact breathing, muscles, and the mind-body connection. Read more about it and try six laughter-yoga exercises here.

Mindset is serious business, but that doesn’t mean it can't be fun and light-hearted, too. In fact, laughing and humor are key to a strong, healthy mindset – one that can weather even major upheavals, whether those are global pandemics or day-to-day stress.

Let's turn to you. How can you bring more laughter into your life?

What's something you'll do today to get a really good, healthy belly laugh in?

So laugh it up, and shine!


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