laughing

We all know that staying healthy and thriving involves much more than the food you eat and the colds you don’t catch. Having a positive outlook may affect your health more than environment and even genetics, and being an optimist has been linked with greater quality and quantity of life.

Modern life inundates us with negative information and bad feelings, from the morning commute to the nightly news, and it can be overwhelming. However each human being possesses a weapon more powerful than any army or any written word: Laughter.

While many have left giggles and guffaws to the grade school set, laughter is a uniquely human trait that sets us apart from the animal world. If you don’t believe in the power of laughter, try laughing at the next cop who pulls you over – you will discover quickly that laughter is not just child’s play, and you will probably have a night in jail to let the revelation sink in.

But you don’t have to fight the law to find out the enormous power of laughter to transform your life from a struggle into a celebration. Crap happens to everyone, but if you can laugh at your struggles, you will always win.

If you weren’t born with a sunny disposition, here are a few tips to bring more humor into your life:

1. Rent a slapstick-silly movie. The images, sounds and stories we give our attention to help to define our identity. If you spend your evenings watching brutal crime dramas or even worse – the news – it will be no wonder that you go to bed grumpy and wake up worse. Instead, choose a silly movie – the one you have wanted to see but are embarrassed to rent at the video store.

2. Find friends who laugh. Everyone knows that person who always seems to bring sunshine into the room wherever she goes. Hang out with her, and let that enthusiastic energy infect you. While you certainly don’t need to dump your “down-in-the-mouth” friends who like to whine and complain, realize that emotions are contagious. If you hang out with people who laugh a lot, so will you.

3. Make a “Playlist.” When is the last time you lost yourself in play? Making mud pies at ten years old? The importance of play in the human life does not end at puberty; this condition of carefree “flow” is a necessary mental state for springing forth new ideas and creative pursuits. What makes you laugh? Make a list of 25 activities that you love to do for fun, both small and big: Take the dog to the park, ride a rollercoaster, go dancing with girlfriends, bake purple cupcakes or attend a street festival. Resolve to check off one item each week.

4. Make funny faces in the mirror (get over yourself). Most adults have adopted a “too cool for school” attitude these days, with an upturned air of superiority preferred to an open smile. When you catch yourself being too serious – scolding yourself for breaking a dish, preening in front of the mirror like the evil queen or flinging off a middle finger in traffic – stop and laugh at yourself. Not with yourself, but at yourself, because you are a funny creature with silly ideas in a fantastic place. Laugh at the world, and the insanity of modern life, and you will immediately gain the upper hand on your situation and feel your stress level plunge.

5. Volunteer with children. Often we stop laughing because of our struggles in life; confined at the center of our own world, we cannot comprehend how short those struggles really are. If you have no kids in the family that you can hang out with, consider volunteering with an at-risk youth program such as Big Brother/Big Sister or any number of such organizations. The laughter of children who have the cards stacked against them will remind you how good you really have it – and how petty your big problems really are. And you will laugh.

image: marc kjerland