Of all the different human behaviours exhibited by mankind, laughter seems like one that’s totally unnecessary for survival (I am pretty sure cavemen didn’t tell jokes to their prey to distract them but maybe it did help them pick prettier mates? More on that later)…. Anyway scientists have always wondered how laughter is so innate and unique to human beings (and primates) that it’s innately present in people of all cultures and ethnicities.
So why do we laugh?
Man’s universal ability to laugh has mystified evolutionary biologists for a long time. Two scientists who’ve been working on this are Pedro Marijuan and Jorge Navarro at the Institu Aragones de Ciencias de la Salud in Spain who believe that the ability to laugh is directly linked to the evolution of the human brain. Most evolutionary biologists at least agree that the human brain started to evolve at breakneck speed when we started living together in groups. This led to greater social complexity and the need to engage a larger group of individuals at the same time. It’s not hard to see how an individual who could charm a larger number of people at the same time would have a greater chance of survival. This notion is backed up by the social brain hypothesis – the belief that brain evolved not to solve everyday problems like how to use tools or hunt but to cope with the demands of a bigger group. Thus, it’s laughing that really makes us (and well our close cousins the primates) different from other animals! That brings us to laughter therapy…
Laughter therapy: Not a joking matter
In the last two decades or so, laughter therapy has gained tremendous popularity in India. It’s not uncommon to go to a park in the morning to find a large group of people guffawing away and the tradition actually has an Indian connection. Hasya yoga or laughter yoga was popularised by Dr Madan Kataria who wrote about the practice in his book Laugh For No Reason. Initially, the West (the poor Anglo-Saxons don’t have the benefit of our 3000-year-old heritage) frowned upon the practice and demanded ‘data’ to back up Dr Kataria’s claims. In time, several small-scale studies showed the immense health benefits of laughter yoga and therapy.
Laughter yoga is in essence a unique exercise that combines laughter with yogic breathing. It’s usually initiated with any stimulus and simple eye contact with others in the group. This in turn leads to real and contagious laughter which has immense health benefits.
The real health benefits of laughing
Laughter actually has tangible health benefits which were covered in psychologist Stephanie Davies’ book Laughology: Improve Your Life with the Science of Laughter which covered many of its health benefits. It explained how women were extremely attracted to men who could make them laugh. It also has a profound effect on our brain and body. It floods our brain with ‘happy hormones’ that makes us more sociable and outgoing. It also helps in making us fitter and helps us look younger!
It also makes us more energetic by improving oxygen supply to our brain which improves efficiency and performance. A study by the University of Maryland Medical Center also found that laughter can actually keep heart disease at bay.
The study, which is the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease, found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.
‘The old saying that ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart,’ says Michael Miller, M.D., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. ‘We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack.’
So go on laugh away the blues because life is too short to be taken seriously. While laughter is important it simply can’t keep all the different ailments at bay and that’s why it’s essential to safeguard your future by having a plan in place.
Read story where it first appeared health.india.com