A man goes to his doctor and says he’s not feeling well. The doctor gives him three bottles of pills. Doctor: "Take the green pill with a glass of water when you wake up. Take the blue pill with a glass of water after lunch. Take the red pill with a glass of water at night." Man (scared): "What’s wrong with me?" Doctor: "You’re not drinking enough water."
Did that make you laugh out loud? That’s good, because that, apparently, is one of the best things you can do to keep yourself healthy.
According to Dr Nikhil Raheja, psychiatrist, National Institute of Psychiatry, laughter is a way of emotional expression. "Laughter is a reflection of one’s internal state. It is something that is linked to a person’s expressions. The act of laughing heightens this internal state," he says.
Dr Raheja goes on to explain that laughter is triggered by the release of hormones, and that it also triggers chemical reactions in the body that work in relieving stress. "There’s an increase in the flow of blood, and the body arrives at a state where it is capable of relaxing," he says.
When we laugh, our physiological system responds by releasing chemicals like endorphins and enkephalins, which are natural feel-good neurochemicals inside the brain. The brain is divided into two sets of nerves – the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system. These constitute the sub-conscious mind and are beyond our control. Each of these nervous systems releases chemicals that affect mood, behaviour and body, and can be damaging, or enriching.
"When we are stressed, the sympathetic division of the brain becomes active. This set of nerves releases chemicals that try to deal with anxieties. There is a release of hormones that help us prepare for stressful situations," says Dr Raheja. If this stress persists for too long, the excess response causes the chemicals to get damaged. "It can lead to the collapse of the physical and psychological system," says Dr Raheja.
Dr Samir Parikh, psychiatrist and chief of department of mental health, Max Health Care, says that laughter is not a direct therapy for psychological or physical illnesses. "It’s just that if you’re happier, you’re healthier," he explains. There have been attempts to harness the power of laughter, like showing comedies to patients. But ultimately, to feel better, you just need to laugh.
"Humour is a way to make it possible to handle life better," says Dr Sandeep Vohra, senior consultant psychiatrist, Apollo Hospital.
Live well? Laugh often
Watch comedy shows. According to Dr Vohra, they are the greatest destressor.
Hang out with funny people.
Read funny books, watch funny films.
Find time to do happy things: spend time with people you like, your family and friends, says Dr Raheja.