Laughter neutralizes situations, and a neutral situation is a safe space where deep meaningful relationships are made and strengthened. Laughing at oneself shows vulnerability, honesty and humility. It tells your loved ones that you know you are not perfect. Laughing, instead of getting upset or defensive, can form a bond of trust with the people in your life.
In my own life, this has become even more important as my four children have grown into young adults. It is a way to reflect back on the past, which allows me to make sense of some of the good, and the bad, decisions my husband and I made as parents. Listening, apologizing, laughing and even doubling over in awe at some of these reflections has helped us as a family make sense of what in some cases really didn’t make sense. By laughing at ourselves we have created a safe space within which to hear our children’s needs and for us to explain our motivations.
Something I would always tell the parents of the patients in my private practice is that we need to earn our children’s respect. And this is true for any relationship! Laughing at our own mistakes makes us accessible, real and open, which are necessary for relationships that bring healing and success in life. Laughing at ourselves send the message that “it is ok, we all make mistakes and everything can be resolved in some way.”
And, of course, there are wonderful mental and physical benefits to laughing at yourself! Forgiveness and joy can improve the immune system, balance neurochemicals, activate the brain’s natural pain relievers and make stress work for us and not against us. It stimulates blood and oxygen circulation in the brain and body and relaxes our muscles, which allows for more clarity of thought and more wisdom.
In fact, studies have shown that laughter can have a similar effect on the brain as antidepressants. Laughing can activate the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, the same brain chemical affected by the most common types of antidepressants, which helps regulate our mood and causes the release of oxytocin. Often called the empathy hormone, oxytocin helps individuals bond and form groups and communities. Laughter can also alter dopamine activity, while the endorphins secreted when we laugh can help us when we feel uncomfortable or depressed. Laughter can also reduce the level of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine, which can make us more resilient to the impacts of toxic stress.
And the best thing about laughter is that it is free!
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