You know that saying “laughter is the best medicine”?
I always thought that was a weird idiom. Maybe something people invented before modern medicine? Or, y’know, before clean hospitals. But this year, when it rolled around to our yearly fundraising for our two favorite charities: BBC’s Children In Needin the UK and Humour Foundation’s Clown Doctorsin Australia, I started to wonder… How much does laughter really help? Are there actual benefits that could mimic medicine?
The answer is… well… yep. And in some unexpected ways.
- Laughter decreases stress. This is the most obvious benefit so we’ll start with this one. Laughter decreases stress! Of course it does, you’re laughing. But there are also a whole host of other reasons why you feel less stressed after you laugh. Did you know that because your muscles contract while you laugh your blood flow and oxygen levels increase which causes endorphins to be released. The very same endorphins that are designed to reduce your perception of pain and increase your feeling of satisfaction and calm – very similar to our old friends morphine or codeine.
- Laughter helps us bond. Another more obvious benefit is the way laughter creates social bonds. Our brains are hardwired to mimic other people’s expressions – like yawning, smiling or laughing. These group experiences help promote a sense of togetherness and safety. That’s sometimes why we’ll start laughing if other people are laughing… even when we aren’t sure what the joke is!
- Laughter boosts immunity. This is an interesting one. According to a study at Indiana State School of Nursing, laughter can increase what is referred to as Natural Killer (NK) cells. These are a type of white blood cell that can attack cancer cells and boost immunity. The study wasn’t able to determine how long these effects last for and how this varies depending on the length of laughter (more research still needs to be done), but it did show an upswing of NK cells in test subjects after laughter so there is promise.
- Laughter can be an antidepressant. Serotonin, that very popular neurotransmitter that basically rules your life. It can effect mood, anxiety, sleep, appetite, temperature and a whole host of other things. Antidepressants use selective subtypes of serotonin to create SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors). But! When you laugh your brain produces serotonin naturally. It’s still unclear how long these effects last for but the burst in serotonin activity in the brain is very clear.
- Laughter reduces perceived pain. It’s not exactly like a pain reliever but laughter has been reported to reduce perceived pain levels. People who were in pain reported being less bothered by the pain after laughter.
- Laughter can protect your heart. No, not from heart break, I’m afraid. But research has shown that laughter has an anti-inflammatory effect on blood vessels and heart muscles that can protect them from the damaging effects of cardiovascular disease.
After finding out all this we are feeling pretty good about the last 2 years of fundraising or Australia’s Clown Doctors. Last year we managed to raise a massive $17,000 – all of it going to getting clowns in hospitals to brighten up the lives of young children. So far this summer we’ve raised $4,351 and we still have October, November and all of December to get through. Fingers crossed we can meet our efforts of last year.
We know BBC’s Children in Need isn’t quite a humour-based charity but we’re pretty proud of the work that is being done with them. Children in Need use their resources to support disadvantaged children and young people across the UK. We’ve been collecting for Children in Need since 2009 and in 10 years we’ve raised over £100,000!!
Since kicking off collections at Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year we’ve raised over £11,000! We’re pretty pleased with that. We’ll be collecting at our London residency and various UK venues right up until the Children in Need fundraising night on 18 November.
Alison Pollard-Mansergh, ITI’s artistic director, explains where it all began:
‘We started out simply, by raffling off a gnome at Edinburgh Fringe in 2009. Now we collect over a 12-week period, at our major venues from after the Fringe onwards, right up until appeals night in November.
‘We are profoundly grateful to our audiences for their generosity, to our venues for supporting our fundraising initiatives, and to our actors who make it all happen. We’re proud to be able to contribute to the work of two charities that improve the lives of young children.’
So there you have it.
Now you know about laughter and medicine, about the wonderful Australian charity bringing that medicine to children who need it, and about the UK charity giving everything to disenfranchised young people who need it.
Now all that’s left is to donate a little something…
Next collection dates for Clown Doctors in Australia:
- 5 Oct: Stamford Melbourne
- 16 Oct: Gloucester Country Club
- 22 Nov: Stamford Melbourne
- 5 Dec: Castlereagh Hotel
- 5 & 6 Dec: Stamford Melbourne
- 12 Dec: Castlereagh
- 13 Dec: Brisbane Golf
Next collection dates for Children In Need UK:
- Each weekend at our London residency at Radisson Blu Edwardian Bloomsbury Street Hotel
- 12 Oct: Aspers Casino, Northampton
- 17-19 Oct: Petwood Hotel, Woodhall Spa
- 1-2 Nov: The Athenaeum, Bury
- 14 Nov: The Ardington, Worthing
- 15 Nov: Villiers Hotel, Buckingham