HAMBURG: Have you laughed today? Good thing if you have because most people take life too seriously.
But those who laugh are healthier because laughing helps them loosen up. Though it causes the pulse initially to quicken, it slows down considerably, so that blood pressure sinks.
"The skeletal muscles relax and the overall result is better circulation to the muscles," said psychologist Michael Titze, chairman of an association called HumourCare in Tuttlingen, Germany, and a researcher into laughter.
Laughing also helps to break down stress hormones and build up hormones associated with happiness. And laughing helps to increase the immune defences in the bloodstream, including those that help the body protect itself from cancer and heart disease. The antibody-containing immunoglobulin in the saliva, which inhibits germ attacks on respiratory organs, also rises.
"Laughing, among other things, tenses the muscles in the eye and activates positive emotions in the brain," said Titze, adding that laughter is an expression of pure deliverance and total tension release. "Through laughter we abandon self control."
The therapist therefore advocates looking for things that trigger laughter in daily life and activating the laugh reflex.
"Laughing induces good mood and that in turn engenders hearty and intense laughter," Titze said. But today this is difficult for many people.
"Laughing demands a bit of courage," said Claudia Madelaine Zimmer of a club in Leipzig dedicated to laughing. To a certain degree, the discipline needed to raise children wears down the ability to have fun. People fear losing their authority by having fun or doing something ridiculous. However, people with humour not only live healthier, they are also better at solving conflicts, she believes.
But because it's often difficult to have a good laugh, people all over the world are joining laugh clubs. Zimmer said such clubs meet regularly, and do "laugh yoga". This sends resounding laughter into the streets, not because the laughter exercises are so funny, but because it's actually a way to practise laughing.
Chuckles, giggles and snickers - "You don't have to make a big deal of it, we're dealing with something that we actually can do," said Michaela Schaeffner, chairwoman of the association of the German laugh-yoga therapists in Munich.
The goal is to laugh without reason or inhibition. This initially seems artificial, but with a bit of training people can learn "to go into natural laughter from collective, intentional laughter". And because you can scarcely think about it while in laugh training, the relaxation is all the greater.