Jennifer Osborne - Chief Wellbeing Officer - Bayleaf Wellness
We have heard it so often – but is laughter really the best medicine?
If you have ever read anything on the psychology of laughter you will know that there is so much more to it than this expression.
As a person who is well known for a boisterous laugh that has followed me throughout many workplaces, spaces and relationships throughout life, the most common comment I have heard over time is that my laugh continues to be the most missed.
Whilst early in my career there was the ultimate concern over developing a serious image and persona in the corporate workplace which included the accompanying self-consciousness, over time with an innate ability to not take myself too seriously there came the realisation that my laughter, particularly when in a position of power, made people feel more comfortable and safe to make mistakes. This led to a willingness to share their struggles and triumphs and built trusting and lifelong collegial relationships which have followed me to this day. My most prolific mentor during this time had the most wonderful wit and would do the most amazing impressions.
In his novel, The Anatomy of Illness, Norman Cousins believes that ‘hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.’ The book documents his journey with the debilitating illness ankylosing spondylitis and his recovery. Relying on his research and books on the subject such as ‘The Stress of Life,’ by Hans Seyle’s he came to believe that negative emotions were linked to adrenal exhaustion. Emotions such as frustration, anger or suppressed rage were considered negative and conversely, positive emotions of love, laughter, and hope would yield healthy results.
Cousins recovered fully and lived to the age of 75 years.
Australian National University professors David Cheng and Lu Wang also suggest that exposure to humorous stimuli can actually help perseverance in completion of tedious tasks. Research has also found that humour can assist in recovery from stressful situations and can even increase pain tolerance.
In an effort to incorporate humour and play, companies such as Google and Virgin build areas for play into their workplace planning and organise events that are fun and considered to ameliorate stress and boost creativity, morale and productivity.
This is an essential element of Workplace Wellbeing that many companies need to incorporate to ensure the ongoing mental health and wellbeing of their staff.
Cardiologists have well known the benefits of a good laugh, particularly at yourself. It is well documented that negative emotions and loneliness can have long-term negative effects on heart health.
Laughter can also ensure a healthy perception of self is maintained in the day to day reality of life’s twists and turns.
In my case, the surrender to simply being human and imperfect including all the frustrations and fun that comes with this, provides a necessary balance that is not only essential for survival but ongoing resilience during difficult times.
My most fondest memories include my grandfather, mother and uncles laughing hysterically at a silent Charlie Chaplin movie whilst we were at a tourist park… skip a few years later and it would undoubtedly be my mother completely inconsolable at Robin Williams in the amazing Mrs Doubtfire. My sister is the Queen of the 'One Eyed' laugh - I still dont know how she pulls it off but she manages this in every photo ever taken! My Uncle and Brother are always cracking a joke and just generally very funny to be around. My deepest soul friend is the best comedian I know (not professional) but certainly responsible for my aching jawline... is there such a thing as too much laughter?
Just thinking of these situations makes me happy even now, many many years later… I do not know what is funnier, the actual situation that they are laughing at or them laughing at the situation! Methinks my deepest joy however comes from the latter.
Sharing my humanity with my friends via facetime, zoom and phone this week, such as attempting to eat a take away dumpling whilst forgetting I was wearing a face shield on my hourly walk in lockdown has made great fodder for this week’s laughter.
When was the last time you laughed at your own silliness or something small and mundane?
Cheng, D., & Wang, L. (2015). Examining the energizing effects of humour: The influence of humour on persistence behaviour. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30, 759–772.
Henry Ford Health, 2019: How laughter benefits your heart health: https://www.henryford.com/blog/2019/03/how-laughter-benefits-heart-health
Cleveland Clinic, 2016: 3 Ways that Laughter can give you a healthier heart: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/3-ways-laughter-can-give-healthier-heart-2/