2005-07-22 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

Laughter
By Dr. Nancy Gahles


DR. nancy gahlesDR. nancy gahles Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone. That’s what my late Irish grandmother used to say. I love to laugh. It is my favorite thing to do. Recently, I got an invitation to my 35th High School Reunion. The first thing that came to mind was all the laughs I had, the incidents and the people who shared those with me. And I mean it. We laughed at everything and everybody. Not in an unkind way. We were actually light hearted and we found something funny in most of life’s absurdities.

In fact, laughter got us through the tough times, particularly when sitting in detention for allegedly stealing a classmate’s slip out of her locker. A slip, by the way, is a petticoat, and yes, we did wear them back then under our school uniforms. You had to, lest anyone see through to your unmentionables. God Forbid!

Well, I didn’t snatch the slip nor did my friend, the accused, but we took the rap and giggled uncontrollably at the bright red, angry face of Sr. Vincent as she meted out Divine Justice. Laughter creates bonds that transcend time. I will be laughing as I pick my friend up at the ferry for our class reunion, 35 years later.

Laughter can break the tension and create a safe space to communicate. I remember one time when I was an intern in Chiropractic College. I was in a cubicle in the clinic examining a patient. My laughter rang out over the top of the cubicle and within moments I heard the voice of the Clinic Director over the loud speaker. “Dr. Gahles, will you please come to the office.” I wasn’t laughing when a stern faced superior told me, “It is inappropriate to laugh with your patients.” I left the office feeling particularly down trodden. How was I ever to manage in practice without laughing?

I come from a laughing family. The Gahles girls, the five of us, were known for our laugh, the cadence of which we got from our mother, the wit from our father.

As years passed I noticed that perhaps the one most important ingredient to a successful practice is laughter. Appropriate laughter. It creates a bond of understanding, compassion and camaraderie.

Illness is no fun and the ability to find joy in some moment is a gift. I laugh regularly with my patients and there’s been no down side to date. Laughter is both a gift and a miracle. It makes one happy. These days happiness is a rare commodity. Witness the number of people on anti-depressants. The miracle is that laughter, an inborn gift, creates health. Even if you don’t feel it, you can smile and that will begin the process internally. A smile can definitely lead to a laugh and a laugh a day may keep the doctor away.

The Washington Post, March 14, 2005, reported on a study that measured the effects of watching a funny movie on the ability of heart blood vessels to expand. The results were surprising. Laughing increased blood flow as much as a 15-30 minute workout! So, when you don’t have time for the gym, watch a funny movie!

“Laughing may also boost the immune system and reduce inflammation, which is thought to increase the risk of various health problems,” reports the Washington Post article.

Stress, that ubiquitous word, causes hormones like adrenalin and cortisol to be released into the bloodstream. These cause blood vessels to constrict. “Researchers believe that laughing causes the body to release the beneficial chemicals, endorphins, which may counteract the effects of the stress hormones and cause blood vessels to dilate,” the article continues. The questions that you need to answer are: What are my stressors and what makes me laugh? It may be easier to identify situations that stress you than those that make you laugh. Laughter is a rare commodity it seems.

Children laugh an average of 146 times a day. Adults laugh an average of 4 times a day. When I began to think of something that made me laugh, I found myself thinking of past times like the ones I spoke of in high school or ones from my childhood. That’s because I laughed more when I was a child. So, I thought it must be because I had less responsibilities then. On further contemplation, I saw that I had quite a bit of responsibility then. We had homework (and we had to achieve, no excuses accepted), chores around the house (seven children), help the younger siblings with their homework (Mom was only 1 person with 2 hands), part time job (pocket money was earned not doled out on an as-needed basis) and who knows what else. I thought about the effects of stress on the blood vessels of the heart and I thought that maybe, as time goes by, we have more life experiences. More “heartache”.

Maybe we carry that around with us and don’t release it. I thought about the effects of anger, resentment, unforgiving, judgments, unresolved conflicts and I literally felt the constriction within. Sometimes there is neither immediate answer nor a resolution in sight. Sometimes we simply have to accept what is. Forgive and forget. There is often nothing else one can do in certain situations. Untie those knots that bind you, open up your heart vessels and have a good laugh!

Surround yourself with people who make you laugh, people who make you happy. Create circumstances that will make you smile. Read some of those funny e-mail forwards that you usually delete. When you can’t, pull a memory out of your childhood that was hysterical and laugh!! Put on a happy face! Do this 146 times a day and you will recreate that childlike sense of fun. The new anti-aging technique, my favorite pastime, laughing.

May The Blessings Be!

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