July 2016

A Man Walks into a Bar…Is laughter really the best medicine?

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Chances are, the last time you visited a doctor, he or she did not tell a corny joke or prescribe a visit to a comedy club. But doing so might have improved your symptoms. While a strong dose of humor may not be a miracle cure for every human malady, there’s no denying that a hearty laugh can make us feel better. Philosophers and psychologists have long extoled the value of laughter, calling it “the best medicine,” yet scientists are still drumming up studies to understand how and why.

For example, in 2014, California’s Loma Linda University measured the effects of humor on stress levels and short-term memory of 20 healthy adults in their 60s and 70s. One group was asked to sit silently, not talking, reading, or using their cellphones, while the other group watched funny videos. After 20 minutes, the participants gave saliva samples and took a short memory test. While both groups performed better after the break than before, participants who viewed the funny videos had much higher improvement in recall abilities, 43.6 percent, compared with 20.3 percent in the non-humor group. The humor group also showed considerably lower levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone,” after watching the videos, whereas the non-humor group’s stress levels decreased only slightly. The findings suggest that humor can have clinical benefits and rehabilitative implications and can be implemented in programs for the well-being of older adults.

Providing further evidence that laughter is good for what ails us, Oxford University researcher Robin Dunbar and colleagues thought that laughter might turn on the brain’s endorphins, a long debated, but unproven idea. They first tested participants for their pain threshold, then exposed them to either a control or a laugh-inducing test before testing pain levels again. They found that pain thresholds became “significantly higher” after laughter, compared to the control condition, suggesting that laughter produces an “endorphin-mediated opiate effect.”

Similar studies throughout the years have indicated that laughter holds power to relieve pain, release stress, increase resistance to disease, improve the function of blood vessels and increase blood flow, which can help protect against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. Some even say laughter helps us burn calories.

So what happens physically when we laugh? We move. We may raise our arms to our face, throw back our head or bend over as our diaphragm begins to convulse. In his books on the power of laughter in recovery from illness, Norman Cousins calls this “jogging your internal organs.” The late psychologist Annette Goodheart, who earned an international reputation as a laughter therapist, lecturer and author calls it “internal massage.”

Is there such a thing as a ‘good’ cry
It makes sense that laughter is a healthy release valve, but what about tears? While tears are often associated with sadness and pain, they can also be an emotional response to something beautiful, joyful, sentimental or funny. Have you ever laughed until you cried?

In a project called “Topography of Tears,” photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher used a microscope to get an up-close look at dried human tears, collected over the course of several years from sources including herself, volunteers and even a newborn baby. What she discovered is that tears of joy, tears of grief, tears of change, onion tears, and others all appear remarkably different, resembling large-scale landscapes, or as she called them, “aerial views of emotion terrain.”

Fisher said, “Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger, and as complex as a rite of passage. It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.”

In his research, Dr. William Frey II, a biochemist from Minnesota and co-author of Crying: The Mystery of Tears, discovered that tears of sorrow and tears of joy seem to be related in that emotional tears contain a greater concentration of protein than tears produced by other means. He believes that tears resulting from sadness play an important part in removing harmful substances that are produced during stress and that tears of laughter serve the same function.

The last time you had a good cry, you might have felt drained, but you probably felt better. You may have also felt this way after a hearty laugh. The reason is that each is an important mechanism for releasing stress and tension. When we laugh or cry, we rebalance the body’s chemistry.

But while crying is important and the suppression of tears can be harmful, at some point in our sadness, upsets and pain, we have to put what we’re crying about in perspective so we can move on with life. Scientists are still looking for definitive proof that laughter is the best medicine, but while we wait for more evidence, a little comic relief is a prescription we all could use. 

RX: Just for Laughs
Where to Find Comic Relief on Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Comedy Magic Cabaret
Opening this month in a brand new, upgraded location at South Island Square, Kerry Pollock returns with his original “Funny not Filthy” comedy magic show along with Friday night BONK, special guest acts and many new surprises. Pollock has been headlining casinos and cabarets for nearly three decades and is a favorite at the world famous Magic Castle in Hollywood. Known for his quick wit combined with amazing magic effects, get ready to laugh until you cry. Call or visit online for show times and more information.
843 William Hilton Pkwy.
South Island Square
Hilton Head Island
(843) 681-7757

Comedy Club of Hilton Head
Experience Bill Gladwell’s amazing mentalism followed by stand-up comedy, featuring different headliners each week at the Comedy Club of Hilton Head, atop Gillan’s Seafood. Note: Comedy shows are rated PG17 for some sexually suggestive material. Call or visit online for entertainment lineup, show times and more information.
18 Harbourside Lane, 2nd Floor
Shelter Cove Harbour
Hilton Head Island
(843) 341-JOKE (5653)

Shannon Tanner at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina
Family entertainer Shannon Tanner is back for his twenty-eighth season, delighting audiences of all ages at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina with his interactive, family-friendly musical shows. While technically not billed as a “comedy act,” we all know that kids say the darndest things. You are sure to leave with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Mon.-Fri., 7-8 p.m. and 8:30-9:30 p.m. Admission is free. Stick around for fireworks on Tuesday nights at 9:30.
1 Harbourside Ln.
Hilton Head Island

Cappy the Clown at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina
Who can resist the colorful antics and sunny disposition of Hilton Head Island’s most beloved clown? Cappy the Clown brings face painting, animal balloons and her special brand of spirit-lifting humor to Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina all summer long, Mon.-Fri. from 6-9 p.m. Cap the night off with fireworks every Tuesday night at 9:30.
1 Harbourside Ln.
Hilton Head Island

Gregg Russell at Harbour Town
Leave your troubles at the Liberty Oak tree in Harbour Town where Hilton Head Island’s iconic singer, actor, entertainer Gregg Russell will have your whole family singing, dancing and laughing in no time. Summer shows are scheduled at 8 p.m. nightly except Saturdays. Admission is free, but expect a $6 gate fee to enter Sea Pines if you are not a property owner or guest staying in the plantation.
147 Lighthouse Rd.
Hilton Head Island

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