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Published August 15, 2012, 11:33 PM

Mathison: Laughter can bring more than smiles with son

I went on a weekend trip with my 4-year-old son Grant, and was reminded about the power of laughter. We had lots to laugh about at the children’s museum, restaurant outings with family and the swimming pool.

By: Susan Mathison, INFORUM

I went on a weekend trip with my 4-year-old son Grant, and was reminded about the power of laughter.

We had lots to laugh about at the children’s museum, restaurant outings with family and the swimming pool. Even the safety cards in the plane were amusing to him, and he can tell the difference between planes by their lifejackets, as depicted in the well-studied cards. I think it’s very wise that these are laminated.

We made up funny new words. Teenage cousins who tease about the monsters in the basement are now called teasenagers. Once Grant realized there weren’t really any monsters down there, he was secretly disappointed, so he became a growling monster unable to hold back the giggles. It was a great weekend, and despite the airlines, pretty stress-free.

The Mayo Clinic calls laughter some of the world’s best medicine. Physical benefits include improved blood flow to internal organs and muscles, enhancing oxygenation and lowering blood pressure. Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack, according to a recent study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. The study, which is the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease, found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.

This improved blood flow also helps muscles and joints, and coupled with feel-good chemicals called endorphins, can soothe tension and minimize pain. Endorphins are also responsible for the so-called runner’s high, so perhaps you can feel less guilty about opting for the funny movie over the half-marathon.

Laughter may induce positive thoughts thought to release neuropeptides that decrease stress hormones and increase immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.

Mentally, laughter almost instantaneously improves your mood. It’s hard to feel angry, sad, fearful or anxious while you are laughing.

Endorphins also play a role here since they enhance your emotional balance and overall sense of happiness.

Laughter and humor help shift your perspective and can allow you to reframe negative situations, looking for the silver lining your mother might have mentioned.

We often see laughter and humor used to diffuse grief when someone dies. I love hearing stories shared by friends and family at prayer services, and the memories of laughter and fun times seem to be front row.

Socially, laughter can improve your relationships with relatives, co-workers, friends and partners. According to Psychology Today, through humor and laughter, you release inhibitions and express your true feelings more easily. Laughter can also help you become more confident and spontaneous.

Additionally, laughing with others can unite people, even in difficult times. It can help you connect, heal disagreements and let go of defensiveness. Many big companies invest in fun activities that help to develop a positive corporate culture for this reason.

Laughter might even save your marriage. Robert Provine, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and author of “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation,” found laughter synchronizes the brains of speaker and listener so that they are emotionally attuned. He concludes that laughter establishes – or restores – a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people.

Provine goes on to tell us, not surprisingly, that laughter plays a big role in mating. Men like women who laugh heartily in their presence, and the laughter of the female is the critical index of a healthy relationship.

Tickling is a sure fire way of getting laughter going, and is certainly a childhood favorite. Grant made me a poster for Mother’s Day that depicted our tickle fests as his favorite thing about me.

Opt for the comedy movie, like “Patch Adams,” or go to a comedy club.

Try Laughter Yoga.

Laugh at yourself. Share your embarrassing moments.

Spend more time with your kids and be present and playful. They are the experts on playing, taking life lightly and laughing. I am so glad to be along for the ride with my son Grant that I don’t mind the crow’s feet from our many giggles.

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com.