In part 1 of How to Think Your Way to Happiness, I talked about the way our brains are responsible for the perspectives we take on life, and how good we ultimately feel. Are you one of the many unwilling victim of thought processes that leave you powerless, miserable and stuck? Did you even know that a few simple changes could re programme your brain to be happy?
I believe we were put on this earth to be happy, and it is a natural state. Having said that, I am not advocating that we all walk around in a state of mindless bliss, impervious to life’s dramas, tragedies and general ups and downs. Rather I am saying that our tendency should be to seek out joy, balance and contentment. We have all encountered people who seem to make it their life’s mission to abuse their bodies, berate themselves for every imagined failure, and devote all their energy to worrying about things that may never happen. Is it any wonder their ‘normal’ state is one of misery and anxiety? At lynnwardhypnotherapy here in Somerset, I ensure my clients don’t fall victim to such negative mindsets by teaching positive ways of thinking and acting to ensure they live their lives in a constructive and optimistic way.
If you have been following the advice from my last blog, you will be making a point of noticing and being thankful for the good things in your life, no matter how small, and will already have begun the process of programming your brain for happiness. Today I want to tell you about a wonderful process that increases levels of serotonin and endorphins (the feel good chemicals in your brain) whilst boosting your immune system, thus ensuring you are less likely to fall victim to colds and flu this winter. This scientifically proved method also has the added bonus of making you appear more attractive to members of the opposite sex! So what wondrous thing am I referring to I hear you all ask? Quite simply it’s laughter! Yes, believe it or not, laughter and smiling have a wonderfully beneficial effect on the way we feel, and the effect is not limited to the actual time engaged in the activity.
- Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
- Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
- Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
- Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
- Laughter helps us bond with others.Most people rate a ‘good sense of humour’ as one of the most important qualities in a partner, and the ability to laugh together helps couples stay together. Humour is infectious. The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy. Laughter breaks down social barriers and is a universal language.
I think one of the most important aspects of humour is the ability to laugh at ourselves and our lives, as it stops us taking things too seriously.
“Angels fly because they take themselves lightly”
A good belly laugh can act like a release valve, and wouldn’t you rather explode with laughter than blow a gasket? Laughter is a natural part of life that is innate and inborn. Infants begin smiling during the first weeks of life and laugh out loud within months of being born. As a hypnotherapist I am particularly interested in the fact that humour helps integrate both hemispheres of our brain. The logical left hemisphere is used to decipher the verbal content of a joke, while the right hemisphere, or subconscious, interprets whether it is funny or not. During hypnosis I work primarily with the subconscious, and it tickles me to know it has a sense of humour! Often when clients are beginning to relax into trance, they start to giggle, and such is the infectious nature of laughter, I usually join in. It’s a wonderful way to enter trance, and I try to employ and encourage humour in all my sessions, as it lightens the mood, creates a bond between myself and my client, and has all the other benefits that I’ve mentioned above!
So how do you go about bringing more laughter into your life? Well the good news is that you can ‘fake it till you make it.’ By acting ‘as if’ you are already happy, you can begin to experience the positive effects of laughter, even if it doesn’t come naturally at first. When we smile, even if it’s not genuine, our brains think “ooh, a smile, we must be happy, lets top up those feel- good chemicals.” So, now you’re smiling, and feeling good because of the serotonin hit, and lo and behold, other people start smiling back at you, and voila, suddenly you are looking and feeling like one of those fun, happy people that everybody likes to be around!
The same goes for laughter – rediscover your laughter muscle and give it a workout every day. I was once part of a studio audience as a sitcom was being recorded. The programme wasn’t funny at all, but the studio director kept holding up signs saying ‘laughter’ and being the polite audience we were, we duly laughed. The funny thing was that very quickly the forced laughter became genuine, and I literally found myself rolling in the aisles!
- Rent a comedy tonight, tune into some comedy classics, or visit a comedy club. Laughter is even better when it’s shared with a partner or friends, so share the fun. Make a point of laughing loud and long, and notice how those around you follow your lead.
- Spend some time each day thinking about all the things that amuse you, or have made you laugh in the past. Our brains operate like a search engine, so the moment you ask it ‘what makes me laugh’ it will search through your memory database to find all the occasions that match your search criteria. When you do settle on a funny memory, really savour it. Close your eyes and imagine yourself back in that situation so that you can see, hear and feel it all again, so that you are actually reliving it in the here and now.
- The next time you get together with friends or colleagues, ask each in turn to recount their most funny/embarrassing experience. It’sa great leveller, and brings us all down to size in a side splitting way.
- Try to see the humour in situations. The old adage ‘if I didn’t laugh I’d cry’ is so true. When life’s little disasters strike, take a step back, and image the fun you will have telling your friends about the time you spent the whole day crouched on the floor with your finger plugging a burst radiator (yes that happened to me!)
- Always have a funny book on the go, so you can have a little light relief in the dentists’ waiting room, and something to distract you when the news is on! I can highly recommend peter Kay’s autobiography The Sound of Laughter.
- Go to a barn dance – if you are anything like me you will fall down laughing. Take up Zumba, Morris dancing or anything else that takes your fancy that lowers your inhibitions and requires you to look ridiculous.
- Notice all the humour that exists around us. Listen to children’s laughter; watch a dog chase its tail or a kitten pounce on a shadow. YouTube has a treasure trove of funny videos on hand that will brighten any coffee break.
- Even during the saddest times of our lives, humour has its place. My father’s favourite tune was the ‘Floral Dance’ by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. We played this at his funeral, and anybody who has heard it knows it’s impossible not to smile at its rousing crescendo. We laughed and cried at my Father’s funeral, but it was during the laughter that I felt closest to his memory.
Look out for my third and final part of How to Think Your Way to Happiness, when I shall be revealing the most powerful tool for creating happiness, increasing health and wellbeing and combating depression, anxiety and fatigue. Till then, make laughter a priority in your life. Aim to laugh at least twenty times a day, smile at strangers and cultivate your sixth sense, that of humour!