Humor Me Healthy

By Jessica Campbell, MS, FNTP

When was the last time you really belly laughed? I don't mean texting ROTFL with a slight giggle, I mean rolling on the floor, clutching at your gut, and wiping tears of joy from your eyes? 

What if I were to tell you that spontaneous eruptions of laughter could heal your body?

It's true and here's how... 

Years ago my husband and I took our kids to see Inside Out, the movie about the emotions that fluctuate in a young teenage girl's mind. I laughed and cried through the movie, but there was one poignant moment I couldn't get over. By the time the teenager was entering high school, she let go of her silly mindset; it crumbled and faded away.

How many of us have given up our goofy side to be more mature adults?

I try to get silly with my kids, but honestly sometimes I react like such a curmudgeon when they just want to goof off.

I've never been a fan of tickling, but my children used to beg their daddy the moment he walked through the door, to tickle them until they were reduced to squeals of delight.

I'm more of a story teller, so once the tickling would settle, my kids would cuddle into me and beg for a silly story about their childhood. They only asked for funny tales and they asked me to repeat them over and over again.

Get Serious About Play

Studies show that we need to get serious about play, especially after 2020.

Chris Kresser, MS shares that "humor may have evolved specifically as a strategy for coping with stress." 

Doesn't that make sense? 

Laughing gave us a way to distance ourselves from our problems, look at them from a different perspective, and feel less anxious about them.

I can tell you from experience that I have a much more difficult time getting upset and yelling at my kids over a glass of spilled milk when we are laughing and having a great time together. 

So when does laughter become medicine?

When we see how science proves having a sense of humor reduces stress. Stress can kill you, all joking aside! Stress raises heart rate, increases blood pressure, and stresses the body, brain, and organs.

Conversely, spontaneous laughter releases dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter in the brain, and endorphins, which help to relieve pain. Continuous laughing can yield similar results to exercise such as heart rate changes, blood pressure changes, muscle activity, and brain activity.

Thus laughing and reducing stress can save your life!

When we have all been under an intense time of stress, it's an important time to lighten up a little and stop taking yourself so seriously. When I was a yoga instructor I would often repeat the phrase in my class, probably more for myself than for my students, "don't worry, it's just yoga, it's not that serious."

If you're an educator, a healthcare provider, a student, or just trying to learn something new, consider this study about the connection between humor and learning. It states that “humor improves student performance by attracting and sustaining attention, reducing anxiety, enhancing participation, and increasing motivation.”

I Need My Silly Family 

I realized one weekend as I was sitting in a very serious nutrition conference, that I needed more humor in my life. I was missing my family, and realized that they are the silly pillars that bring me back to the moment. I fell in love with my husband, not only for his good looks 😉, but because he made me laugh, and I felt happy whenever I was with him. He was the yang to my very serious yin.

Couple Laughing, Food Foundation, Jessica and Noah

So this particular weekend I was missing our nightly ritual to watch an episode on TV, and I realized why I craved that time. It's not only the connection of cuddling on the couch, but that I needed that episode to be a silly sitcom so I could giggle and decompress from my daily stress. I agree with Kresser that if you are going to watch TV, "you might as well watch shows that are funny and improve your health."

While away for the weekend, I stayed with friends who don't have children. After the long work day, I found myself rolling on the floor, playing with their two dogs, and I realized upon writing this, that they were stand ins for my own children.

My point is this: I know you may be so extremely tired at the end of the day that you want to crawl into a dark room alone and drink wine until you pass out, but there are more ways to self medicate.

Think about who brings silliness and laughter to your life? 

Think about who you could call, yeah not text, but actually call and have a fun conversation with, or who you could go visit for a quick funny story. You can watch a funny show, but do take the extra step to spend time with friends or walk the extra mile and check off a few more health benefits from your daily scorecard. 

No matter what you choose, I encourage you to make an attempt to bring humor into your life and giggle your way back to health. We think this is so important at Food Foundation that we have come up with a long list of 15 ways to get silly and improve your health. Enjoy!

15 Ways to Find Health Through Humor

  1. Turn off the news on your way home from work; instead listen to a funny radio station.
  2. Watch a comedian on TV instead of watching overly-sensationalized, depressing news.
  3. Listen to a David Sedaris audiobook, or a funny podcast while cooking a healthy meal.
  4. Lay on the floor and play with your pets or do some silly yoga with your kids.
  5. Put on some silly music and have a ridiculous fashion show with your family or friends.
  6. Share funny stories about your past and be sure to act out the silly parts.
  7. Play a really silly board game like Telestrations that promises to bring on the giggles.
  8. Read the funnies instead of the headlines.
  9. Read a blog that you find entertaining instead of the online news feeds.
  10. Go to a comedy night with a group of friends and get the best ab workout of your life.
  11. Go dancing in the next rainstorm and forget about acting “normal” for a while.
  12. Practice a few jokes to tell at your next friendly gathering and try to get the whole group laughing.
  13. Challenge someone to a sport or game that you are both really bad at. Struggling together, can sometimes bring on the silly!
  14. Instead of simply walking from point a to point b, try skipping, cartwheels, or pretend you are a very serious member of the ministry of silly walks.
  15. Indulge in a little TikTok scroll time and find some funny content creators. Tatum Talks, Useless Farm, and Happy Kelli!

Laughter is an amazing medicine, it's free, and it has magical healing power. Never was the magic explained better, than by J.M. Barrie in Peter Pan. 

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, it's laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies."