Jogging for the Soul

It was just one of those magical evenings.

Pulled together at the last minute, three girlfriends and I decided we needed to spend some time together catching up.

The weather was gorgeous and we ended up having dinner on a beautiful restaurant patio, eating extraordinarily good food, served by one of the best looking, charismatic and wittiest servers I’ve met.

That in itself was enough to make it a great experience but what I hadn’t counted on was the amazing amount of fun and laughter we shared and how good it felt. 

As I paused to reflect during and after the evening, I realized that somewhere along the line, I’ve stopped making having fun a priority. As a result, I’ve been missing out on far too many benefits.

The laughter itself was invaluable in not only connecting us and deepening our interaction, but also in terms of reducing any stress we might have been feeling, and in simply making us feel good.

Experts tell us there are also physiological benefits because laughter not only reduces the level of stress hormones, it increases the level of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins and neurotransmitters. That means we should all be working actively to smile more because apparently even that can release the endorphins and make you feel happier.

We also know that laughter increases the number of antibody-producing cells and in doing so contributes to a stronger immune system as well as fewer physical effects of stress.

A good belly laugh can actually provide a workout for your diaphragm, abs, shoulders, and even your heart.

One study showed that people with heart disease responded less humorously to everyday life situations. They generally laughed less, even in positive situations, and they displayed more anger and hostility.

Who knew?

All well and good but for me the best part of the fun and laughter was the distraction it provided. Life has thrown me some recent curves that have left me more anxious than is typical for me. The night out with the girls kept me from negative and stressful thinking.  Not only that, thanks to my funny buddies, I was left with a lighter perspective and a more positive viewpoint. 

Since then I’ve also made a concerted effort to nix television and movie dramas and instead seek comedies to watch or books to read that will keep me laughing. And, instead of complaining about life’s frustrations, I’m just trying to think of them as potential fodder for my own sitcom. 

But, when all else fails, you can still “fake it til you make it”. When it comes to laughter and fun, studies show the positive effects of smiling and laughing occur even when they are fake.

Apparently, the body can’t tell the difference between the real thing and fake smiles or laughter that you start doing on purpose.

In the end, the old saying that “laughter is the best medicine” holds true but I think I prefer to think of it as “jogging for the soul”. Why? Because for some strange reason that makes me smile.

Posted on 07-22-12

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