Every year on Mother’s Day weekend I travel from the west coast to visit my mom in Connecticut. She’s 92 and still healthy (and not on any medications, just a multivitamin). I look forward to this every year. A couple of years ago when I went, it rained nearly the entire weekend. I usually stay with my niece, Kim, who is also my best friend. She wanted to paint rocks with positive messages to put in her garden, so we did. Not very fun but it was creative and something to do as it poured rain outside. After a few hours of this, we started laughing at the fact we were inside painting rocks. Just saying those words made us laugh. Then she turned on some 80s music and we just got up and started dancing in the kitchen, with paint mess on our hands and clothes. She said “Wait, I have an idea” and then ran upstairs to get some 80s wigs. So now we were dancing with 80s hair to really funky music and laughing nonstop. This was healthy.
It did not end there. She suggested we walk over to her mom’s house (my sister) about a half mile away with our wigs on since the rain stopped for a while. So here we are skipping down the road, now singing 80s tunes, while some cars honked their horns and gave us the “thumbs up.” We looked and were acting super silly and then showed up on my sister’s porch. When she answered the doorbell, she just cracked up laughing. “What are you two doing?” she said. We went into her house, turned on the 80s music and started dancing. “We are bored from being indoors painting rocks all day and need some exercise, we said.” So, we danced and laughed for hours. That was a healthy way to spend time together.
Human emotions, such as laughter and joy, profoundly affect psychological and physiological processes. These positive emotions decrease the risk for stress-related diseases.1 In fact, ancient 10th century people understood the positive effects of a joyful spirit as it is referenced in the bible in the Book of Proverbs (17:22) where it states: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Laughter also burns calories. In one small study 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories.2 Yeah! I figured we burned at least 200 calories from laughing and more from a couple hours of dancing. It is now well documented that human emotions interact with the mind and body in powerful ways that impact our health.3 A good example of this is the placebo effect in studies where an inactive drug is effective simply due to the patient’s belief in the treatment. Believing in something and laughing both have a positive feeling that may improve health. Humor also serves as a coping mechanism. People who see the amusing side of challenges are more capable of coping with stress.4
So, there you have some of the science of humor and laughter, but you really don’t need the science to know it works. Let’s get to what you can do during challenging times. I’m going to make a suggestion here and I hope it becomes contagious. HAVE A DANCE PARTY! Kim and I started a tradition many years ago we call “Fun Friday.” This emerged from the days I worked at Mattel’s corporate fitness center. Every Friday when the fitness center closed, Kim and I went into the group exercise classroom, turned on some music (usually disco), and danced for at least an hour. We would be silly and make up super fun dance routines. It’s even better if you are not a good dancer (because it’s way funnier)! Remember Elaine Benis’ dance from that Seinfeld episode? If not, look that one up! This week when Friday rolls around remember Sue & Kim’s Fun Friday dance party and just do it. You will feel better. You most likely will laugh and will be improving your health at the same time. Do it when the news is getting you down. Turn off the TV and get up and dance. My husband would say “Dance like everyone is watching and needs a good laugh.” I’m going to remind you of this on Friday.
My Mother’s Day trip filled with laughter did not end with our 80s dance party. The next day I took my mom for a pedicure, something she does only once a year. I learned after being her daughter for 50+ years that she is ticklish. I’m sharing my video clip of that moment and I’m pretty sure it will put a smile on your face. Her laughter was so contagious that day, nearly everyone in the salon was laughing after just a few minutes. She spread joy and good health to everyone and lifted the mood. I am so profoundly grateful for the moments that make us feel alive and happy.
Your body cannot heal without play. Your mind cannot heal without laughter. Your soul cannot heal without joy. –Catherine Rippenger Fenwick
1 Hayashi K, Kawachi I, Ohira T, Kondo K, Shirai K, Kondo N. Laughter is the best medicine? A cross-sectional study of cardiovascular disease among older Japanese adults. J Epidemiol 26: 546–552, 2016. doi:10.2188/jea.JE20150196.
2 Buchowski, M. S., et al. (2007). “Energy expenditure of genuine laughter.” Int J Obes (Lond) 31(1): 131-137.
3 Butler B. Laughter: the best medicine? OLA Quarterly 11: 11–13, 2014. doi:10.7710/1093-7374.1074.
4 Booth-Butterfield M, Booth-Butterfield S, Wanzer M. Funny students cope better: Patterns of humor enactment and coping effectiveness. Commun Q 55: 299–315, 2007. doi:10.1080/01463370701490232.