It’s time to laugh: Why humor is good medicine for seniors
Please take a moment to look around your house or out your window and find someone or something that pleases you. Then ease your face into a smile. And notice how it makes you feel.
Smiling is the perfect prelude to a piece about laughter. We touched on how laughter is good for your heart in an earlier post. Now, if you’re in the mood, read a little more about the role humor plays in our lives.
I just listened to a wonderful podcast about the topic and learned something worth sharing. It turns out humor is so much more than just feeling amused by a good story or funny movie.
Humor – and specifically laughter – is good for our health. This includes our physical and emotional well-being, our mental health, and our relationships. It helps ease anxiety, boost the immune system, protect the heart, and strengthen resilience.
That’s an impressive lineup of benefits when you think about it. Laughter is a free and abundant tonic for improving our lives as seniors and caregivers. It’s ours for the taking.
Humor adds vitality to our years, so we should be all in. All of us, at every age.
Let’s warm up with a bit of humor. Do you remember Reader’s Digest? If you’re a Baby Boomer like me, you grew up with it. There was usually a small stack of past issues in our bathroom – “the library” as my dad called it.
I loved it because it had plenty of good jokes and funny stories in every issue. One regular feature, “Laughter, The Best Medicine,” included gems like this:
A woman accompanied her husband when he went for his annual checkup. While the patient was getting dressed, the doctor came in and said to the wife, "I don't like the way he looks." "Neither do I," she said, "but he's handy around the house."
As April – National Humor Month, by the way – draws to a close, I invite you to laugh a little and make it a daily habit. Encourage your loved ones to do the same.
Why humor is essential for good health
Finding enjoyable moments throughout the day centers us in the present. When we’re laughing, we can’t help but be in the here and now. That’s a form of mindfulness, and that’s beneficial to our emotional health.
That same levity is also responsible for releasing powerful feel-good chemicals in our systems, so the effect of humor is not only emotional, it’s physical.
- Laughing feels good. When we laugh, our system releases dopamine, a natural stress reducer. The relaxing effect it has on the body can help release physical tension long after the laughter subsides.
- High levels of fear or stress cause the release of cortisol, which negatively impacts memory function. With laughter and stress reduction, memory is improved. Regular laughter helps keep cortisol levels in check.
- Here’s more on memory. Humor can lead to better focus and retention, and that proves useful for both the person saying something funny and the person being amused by it. Humor engages us and funny things are more memorable as a result.
- Laughter releases dopamine, which causes the sensation of reward and pleasure.
- Laughter produces endorphins, which can diminish the perception of pain. The effects of a good laugh can last for a couple of hours.
- Laughing is a mini-workout. Think about the sensation of a belly laugh – that deep, hearty sensation that puts your gut in motion and increases your oxygen intake. It makes your muscles contract and gives your torso a bit of exercise.
- When blood oxygenation is improved, there’s a positive impact on the heart. Laughing helps our blood circulation and can actually help to temporarily lower blood pressure.
- Laughter can diffuse anger. If you’re able to find a little humor in an argument or problem, this can help you get past it more quickly.
A few ways to incorporate laughter into your day
Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. — Victor Borgé
Caregivers can use humor to calm a challenging situation and help to avoid upset. Daily life has many moments that lend themselves to laughter if we’re willing to pause and think about the absurdity of them. Finding even a bit of humor helps us make the most of them, by relieving stress and taking the edge off of tense circumstances.
Laughter is fun and it’s easy to use. It’s plentiful and requires minimal effort. Here are some ways to get it flowing in your household.
- Start by smiling. You’ll notice that smiling at others can be contagious.
- Ask friends and family about the funniest thing that’s happened to them lately. Conversation about amusing things feels good, and people love to talk about their experiences.
- Spend time with children. If you can incorporate an activity like making art, cooking, or playing a game, there’s sure to be some laughter involved. There are some wonderful kids’ picture books available, and many are silly, rhyming, and colorful.
- If you’re with children, encourage their humor even if it’s not always funny. Think of it as a confidence-builder for them and a way to keep laughter in the house.
- Try laughter yoga or laughter meditation, which combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing. (Just watching the video will make you want to join in and laugh!) This is a technique that can be useful for all of us, especially if we’ve been feeling down or stressed out.
- With the easing of COVID restrictions on the horizon, try spending more time with family and friends. Friendly conversation often leads to laughter. The more, the better.
- Make a point to laugh at yourself. Did you forget why you walked into a room? Did you say something embarrassing? Try to take yourself less seriously from time to time.
- Watch funny movies or TV shows. If you’re watching a TV show with a laugh track, you feel as if you’re enjoying the action along with others, and sharing humor makes it even more powerful.
- Sit back and read funny stuff – find jokes for everyone’s taste on the Reader’s Digest site.
When author Justin Halpern moved in with his 73-year-old father Samuel, he discovered his dad’s comic genius, delivered in a funny but cantankerous way. In his old age, Samuel tended to say whatever was on his mind. Justin began noting his dad’s comments and rants, and the result was a prolific Twitter feed followed by his book, “Sh*t My Dad Says” which became a New York Times bestseller. Be aware, there’s plenty of salty language in this one, but it’s hilarious – especially in small doses.
Time to laugh — some jokes to get you started
Humor comes in all forms. Think about memories that make you laugh, funny lines from movies, or stories about everyday events in the lives of people you know. Humor is all around.
Here are some bits that have tickled my funny bone.
There’s a particular kind of humor called “dad jokes” that seem to work best with children. The cornier the better for younger kids, although these jokes have a tendency to elicit groans as those children grow up. For example:
I don't trust those trees. They seem kind of shady.
What did the zero say to the eight? That belt looks good on you.
Former President Barack Obama was particularly adept at dad humor, which he made a bit more sophisticated for the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2009:
“There was a point in my life when I started palling around with a pretty ugly crowd, I’ve got to be honest. These guys were serious deadbeats; they were lowlifes; they were unrepentant no-good punks. That’s right: I’ve been a member of the United States Senate.”
There are the beloved (and easy to remember) one-liners, like this from George Burns:
“You know you’re getting old when you stoop to tie your shoelaces and wonder what else you could do while you’re down there.”
And a favorite of mine from the late Robin Williams:
“A woman would never make a nuclear bomb. They would never make a weapon that kills - no, no. They'd make a weapon that makes you feel bad for a while.”
Memorial services can be somber occasions but they can also be the perfect setting for a little levity. Humor can have a healing effect, especially if there’s something funny about the deceased that others can relate to. Here’s an excerpt from a eulogy written by the daughter of the man who recently passed:
“Harry Weathersby Stamps, ladies’ man, foodie, natty dresser, and accomplished traveler, died on Saturday, March 9, 2013….He excelled at growing camellias, rebuilding houses after hurricanes, rocking, eradicating mole crickets from his front yard, composting pine needles, living within his means, outsmarting squirrels, never losing a game of competitive sickness, and reading any history book he could get his hands on….Harry took fashion cues from no one.
His signature everyday look was all his: a plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom, his black-label elastic waist shorts worn above the navel and sold exclusively at the Sam’s on Highway 49, and a pair of old school Wallabees (who can even remember where he got those?) that were always paired with a grass-stained MSU baseball cap.”
At SeaCare In-Home Care Services we know the value of a good sense of humor. We also take our work seriously when it comes to providing specialized care for you and your family. Give us a call to learn more. We’re here when you need us.
Katie Wright writes about aging and senior wellness from Bellingham, WA. You can read more about her here.
If you or a loved one you know are looking for additional support during this time and are interested in scheduling a free in-home assessment, please contact SeaCare In-Home Care Services today! A SeaCare family member is standing by. 425-559-4339.