By Desiree Rodrigues
Who can recall the scene from the movie “Legally Blonde,” where Elle is doing her best to explain that people who exercise are happy because of the release of endorphins? Well, before everyone tries to add an extra hour of cardio to their day, did you know that laughing also releases endorphins? A study by Robin Dunbar, a professor emeritus of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, suggests that the muscles used while laughing also trigger the release of these “happy hormones.”
Sharing a humorous moment with someone is also a natural form of therapy. Making someone laugh can change their mood in a second. Scientifically, we know that this reaction might be due to endorphins, but the effect goes beyond the science books.
Speaking from experience, I have had times when I needed cheering up. When someone makes me laugh, I see things in a different light. My thoughts are clearer and I have a more optimistic outlook on the situation. My grandmother would always say, “La risa es el major remedio,” which means, laughter is the best medicine. I grew up with that mentality, so in my house we tell jokes and we laugh even when faced with a tough situation.
But how does laughter become part of a therapeutic session without seeming insensitive? Can laughter be therapeutic to everyone?
I spoke with Lourdes Perez, a Hillsides CalWORKs therapist (CalWORKs is an employment-focused program that receives referrals from the California Department of Social Services), and asked her if she has incorporated laughter in her sessions with clients. She stated that she had, because laughing for even a minute helps relieve stress, and afterwards clients can approach their situation with a different mindset. She introduces laughter as a form of self-care, always making sure to explain that laughing at something is not a way of making light of a situation. She encourages her clients to think of the last time they laughed out loud at something, and she asks them to talk about how they felt afterwards.
Rosa Chavez, a Hillsides mental health rehab specialist for outpatient and school-based programs in Baldwin Park, also uses laughter in her therapy sessions with children and parents. “When working with little ones, I try to incorporate laughter as much as possible because it is important for children to feel at ease and have fun during sessions,” she said. She added that while working with parents in Positive Parenting sessions, “I incorporate humor to make them feel relaxed, since talking about parenting and their challenges can be difficult.”
Need more proof of the healing power of humor? Peter McGraw, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of the book, “The Humor Code,” created a humor research lab where he and his staff study the effects of humor on health and psychological well-being. Some of the results prove that even a fake smile or laugh can release endorphins, resulting in a decrease in the amount of cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” produced by the body. He has a slightly different approach about incorporating humor therapeutically because he believes people need to be taught how to be happy. You can read more about. McGraw’s study and book by visiting his website, humorcode.com.
In an online article posted by the Social Anxiety Institute, “He Who Laugh Most is Most Likely to Last,” one statement stood out in the first paragraph: “By adding laughter to our daily lives, our therapy becomes more efficient and effective.” The challenge is to smile and laugh out loud as often as you can, even when you feel blue. Laughter is contagious — your giggle and smile can help brighten someone’s mood.
You have a chance to learn some new jokes at the upcoming fundraiser for the children of Hillsides at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena on October 14. Get your tickets now by calling 626-577-1894 or visiting icehousecomedy.com and get ready to LOL!
Desiree Rodrigues, who has worked at Hillsides for eight years, is the program coordinator for the CalWORKs program at Hillsides. She is currently working on her degree in literature at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, and is looking forward to beginning California State University, Long Beach next fall.