Before speaking about the psychological aspect, there are some interesting findings from the biology of laughter. Research found that spontaneous laughter results in the release of endorphins (feel-good chemical) which decrease stress and anxiety, and increases your ability to tolerate pain. Endorphins are natural pain-killers.
There is a subtle but important difference between the ability to laugh versus the capacity to laugh. When someone says, “just laugh it off”, that's referencing the ability to laugh. The capacity to laugh is the ability to laugh at moments and experiences. It's my belief that expanding your capacity to laugh can have a positive impact on your life, it may even save it.
Expanding the capacity to laugh shifts your psychological makeup in two ways: cognitively and emotionally. Finding humor in moments that don't appear funny increases your cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to understand one thing from different perspectives, to simultaneously contemplate multiple aspects of a single thing. I'll write more about this in the future, but I hope it's fairly clear how this skill can be helpful in better yourself, friendships, marriage, and parenting.
Laughter can have a profound effect on your emotional life. Laughing simply makes you feel better. It feels good to laugh. I'm talking about something different here. Genuine laughter, at a deeper level, is a moment of radical vulnerability and openness. It's sharing your private world with someone else. Without saying anything, you're expressing that what the other person said moved you. When laughing, anxiety and stress are removed from the moment. Laughter is undoubtedly a way to connect with other people. In therapy, if I connect with someone through laughter, it tells me this person has the capacity to be flexible in thought and to be emotionally vulnerable.
Laughter can also be a humbling experience, especially if you can laugh at yourself. Maybe it's my defense mechanism, but I think too often people take themselves too seriously. Having the ability to see your shortcomings through humor is a healthy way of recognizing your imperfections. This doesn't mean you should laugh off your inadequacies, I'm merely suggesting that taking a lighthearted, less critical approach might be more helpful. Too often I find myself saying in therapy that the mistakes patients make are mistakes made by everyone.
Now certainly there are moments and experiences that aren't funny. I'm not suggesting to find the humor in tragedy or other serious issues. However, it can be and is helpful to laugh at things that are inconsequential at the end of the day. Find the balance.
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