Scientific research into the benefits of laughter was triggered by Norman Cousins’ book Anatomy of an Illness – later made into a Hollywood movie. American journalist Cousins was given a few months to live in 1964. He had ankylosing spondylitis, a rare disease of the connective tissue. He decided to fire his doctors and moved into a hotel and watched comedy movies. He found laughter gave him two hours of pain free sleep. He lived for another 26 years.
It would be wrong to claim laughter added 26 years to Cousins life, but it did stir scientific research. In the late 1960s, psychiatrist William Fry proved mirthful laughter provides a good physical exercise. Later, Dr. Lee Berk found mirthful laughter raises good cholesterol and lowers inflammation. The 2011 study at Oxford University by Professor Robin Dunbar found laughter increases our pain threshold, due to the physical act of laughing, not the pleasure of humour. Our muscular laughter exertions release endorphins, the brain chemicals known for their feel-good effect. Thus, we relax and release the tension that contributes to pain. Psychotherapist Dr. Annette Goodheart, author of Laughter Therapy (1994), worked with laughter as a cathartic process. On laughter and physical pain, she states that getting people to laugh releases the tension that contributes to pain.
So, when we laugh we get an injection of happy hormones, changing our mood for the better. Psychology Professor Charles Schaefer says, “Once the brain signals the body to laugh, the body doesn’t care why. It is going to release endorphins; it is going to release stress as a natural physiological response to the physical act of laughing”.
Laughter Yoga was created by medical doctor Madan Kataria in 1995. Started as a social club movement, it has entered the public, business and charity support world. Dr Kataria realized that it’s the ha-ha-ha that releases endorphins, not humour. He describes Laughter Yoga as, “A combination of deep breathing, stretching and forced laughter” which soon become real and contagious in a group.
Laughter is initiated as an exercise, with eye contact and childlike playfulness. The purpose is to signal the body to laugh. In many ways, it is a kindergarten for adults. Singing, dance, and games are added. You feel good and the stress hormone cortisol, is reduced.
Dr. Kataria’s concept has been widely accepted all over the world and covered by newspapers and television networks. A 2014 Deakin University School of Psychology (Australia) found that Laughter Yoga has a real positive effect on workplace wellbeing. Using validated psychological methods, the study found wellbeing and job satisfaction improved by 6%. The USA, 2007 study by Beckman, Regier & Young, demonstrated increases in self-efficacy, optimism and positivity. Analysis shows happy employees have higher levels of productivity and perform better in leadership positions.