There are Career Coaches, Life Coaches … and there are Laughter Coaches. The job description would go something like this:
Help Wanted: Mature person, responsible for getting people to laugh. Understands the value of laughter—how it helps people deal with stressful work situations, handle a serious illness or make peace with longtime hurt and pain that may impact the quality of a person’s life.
Yes, it’s true … this is a real career. The field is full of Laughter Coaches or Facilitators who encourage and teach clients how to use laughter to “reach their inner joy” or “to laugh about what hurts them the most.” There are also practitioners called Certified Laughter Leaders and Laughter Wellness Facilitators and more. Although there does not appear to be any one official certifying agency for these laugh influencers, many organizations do offer this service, as well as many workshops and retreats. Another well-established field is Laughter Yoga, which combines Yoga movement with laughter. Many certified laughter programs are well-established in the UK and Canada.
Many Mental Health therapists offer Laughter Therapy (also called Humor Therapy), using laughter to help improve their clients’ sense of well-being by relieving pain and stress. It’s also used by therapists to help patients cope with serious diseases, like cancer. It is considered a type of complementary therapy and encompasses the use of books, games, movies, exercises, and in some cases, clowns. There is no real Laughter Certification that therapists can acquire, per se, but through work with patients and accumulating experience in the area, therapists often add this as a specialization.
The Laugh Connection
Scientists have been researching the relationship between the mind and the body, especially in connection with the body’s ability to heal (an emerging field called psychoneuroimmunology). Laughter changes the brain chemistry by boosting the immune system. It also reduces cortisol and adrenalin, two stress hormones. Improved blood flow to the heart, increased heart and stabilized blood pressure can all result from a good laugh. Laughing improves digestion and speeds up respiration and blood circulation. Laughing more than 100 times a day might equal the benefit of 10 minutes of aerobic exercise! In effect, by laughing, a person may begin to feel more in control and a situation might seem a bit more manageable. A little laughter helps the release of anger, stress and fear which can harm the body over time. Basically, humor improves the quality of life.
Figuring out what makes you happy, as well as cultivating the ability to find humor and laughter in everyday situations, can relieve the stress and tension that comes with life’s challenges. Let’s say you get serious health news. You have two choices: 1) be miserable and depressed, making fighting your disease harder; or 2) choose to laugh and be happy, giving you more energy to move forward with your life. By opting for pathway #2, you remain in control, even if everything else is out of your hands.
Many people tend to hold on to past pain. Laughter could probably help loosen their focus on hurtful issues. Researchers have found that humor leads to increased hopefulness and helps fight negative thoughts in the brain. People begin to see a way out of their emotional pain with this increase of positive emotions. When people begin to form a clear plan to deal with a situation, they are freed from negativity. The catharsis that comes from laughing—especially at slights or hurtful situations—can help a person regain control over feeling powerless. Taking a small reprimand with a grain of salt and an (internal) smile can remind you to not sweat the “small stuff.”
Did You Hear the One About ….
As far back as the Middle Ages, surgeons tried to distract their patients from imminent pain with humor. Much later, scientists began to study this phenomenon, mostly due to the influence of Norman Cousins, who cured himself from a serious illness (ankylosing spondylitis) with his own laughter and vitamin regimen. He described how watching funny movies helped him recover. More studies about laughter and health followed, with participants evaluated before and after watching something funny. The “after” results showed reductions in pain, boosts to the immune system and decreases in stress-related hormones.
Since the research suggests that laughter therapy can help improve quality of life for patients with chronic physical and mental ailments, more and more people are turning to humor. Many hospitals now offer Laughter Therapy programs as complementary treatments. There, you might see “humor rooms” and “laughter wagons” (full of funny books, games and toys) popping up all over. Some support groups might begin with a few laughter exercises. What is everyone trying to accomplish with this new type of therapy?
How It Works
The first step in Laughter Therapy is finding out what makes a person laugh. What makes one person laugh, might be different for another person. It might be a movie or video of a sitcom or standup comic. Laughter Coaches do not limit themselves to jokes, nor to real laughter. Fake laughter can also be effective.
For example, a Laughter Coach may ask you to form a distorted image of yourself in your mind and pretend to laugh out loud. Or you may be asked to use lawnmower laughter in which you chuckle a little (start the mower), then laugh a little louder, then laugh powerfully (revving the motor). Fake laughs usually give way to real ones, according to Laughter Coaches.
The actual act of laughing shouldn’t hurt. Laughter does cause a little physical strain, so it may not be right for those who’ve had intensive surgery or who have hernias. If in a group, be wary of cold or flu sufferers, especially if you have a compromised immune system—you may not want someone actually laughing in your face.
David Rosenblatt, LCSW, who is on the staff of CJE Counseling Services, acknowledges that he sometimes uses humor as a technique in his therapy sessions. He finds that some clients can experience relief from the intensity of their anxiety or depression symptoms when they are able to laugh. He cautions that humor needs to be used very discreetly and carefully, however. There is always the possibility that humor can be misinterpreted and this can also be an issue addressed in therapy.
Rosann Corcoran, Manager of CJE Counseling Services, adds “All of CJE’s therapists view humor as one of many coping strategies that they hope to develop and encourage in their work with clients.”
If you are interested in mental health therapy, contact CJE SeniorLife at 773.508.1000 for an appointment. Our counselors are available to assist you in individual as well as group settings.
Exercise + Laughter = Feeling Good + More
Researchers studied an exercise program for older adults called LaughActive to see whether one of its components (simulated laughter) would increase participation in physical activity. Laughter exercises lasting 30 to 60 seconds each were interspersed between strength, balance and flexibility exercises of moderate intensity. When evaluating the LaughActive program, 100% of the participants reported feeling better overall; 96% found the laughter exercise to be more enjoyable than regular exercise; 89% found that it motivated them to exercise more, made exercise more accessible and wanted to continue taking the class; and 93% of participants found more joy in their life as a result of the program.
Greene, CM et al. Evaluation of a laughter-based exercise program on health and self-efficacy for exercise. The Gerontologist (2017); Vol. 57(6): 1051–1061.
Information for this article was obtained from the following sources: Division of Mind Body Medicine at CTCA (www.cancercenter.com/treatments/laughter-therapy/) University of Michigan (www.uofmhealth.org)
What’s your favorite party joke? Whether it’s a spirited one-liner inspired by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Jewish housewife/stand-up comic, knock-knock joke, dorky dad humor, silly pun or other witty quip, we’re putting your comedic chops to the test on social media!
Share your best jokes with CJE on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter by tagging @CJESeniorLife and using the hashtag #CJEJokeChallenge. Then stay tuned for the voting polls. We’ll announce the most well-received jokes on social media and in our next issue of LIFE Magazine!