It was baby mosquito’s first day to fly from home. When the baby mosquito came back home later that day, the father mosquito asked, “How was your journey?” The baby mosquito replied, “It went great. Everyone was clapping for me.”

Laughter and humor have existed in every society as a means of human wellbeing. Everyone feels uplifted after a good laugh with friends or just watching a comedy. Humor helps us forget our troubles temporarily but it can also help change our mental attitudes in a way that can improve our health.

Laughing and appreciating humor can also have numerous benefits to people who are struggling with mental health issues.

Humor can have immediate health benefits by stopping distressing emotions such as anxiety, anger and sadness. It may act as a great coping mechanism to relieve stress and prevent tensions from building up. Most importantly humor can shift your perception of situations so things can seem less serious or threatening.

What happens to our bodies when we laugh? The limbic system is a network of structures located beneath the cerebral cortex. This system is important because it controls three key functions in the brain: emotions, memories and stimulation.

The limbic system is involved in all emotions, including laughter, and basic functions for survival. The amygdala and the hippocampus are the two limbic structures that play an important role in friendship, love and affection, mood and laughter.

Dysfunction in the amygdala region of the brain has been linked to disorders like depression, Parkinson’s and fragile-x syndrome, a disorder often marked by symptoms similar to attention deficit disorder and autism.

Research published in Neuron showed that laughter activated an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. The NAcc is also involved in the pleasurable feelings that follow monetary gains or the use of addictive drugs. 

The funnier the content, the more blood flow to the NAcc was measured, confirming its role in humor appreciation.

Laughter reduces mental tension and increases energy, enabling a person to stay focused and accomplish more. Both sides of the brain are stimulated during laughing, which encourages clarity, humor and creativity and better problem solving skills.

There was an elderly couple who in their old age noticed they were getting a lot more forgetful, so they talked to their doctor. He told them to start writing down things, so they didn’t forget.

They went home and the wife asked the husband to get her a bowl of ice cream and she tells her husband you might want to write that down, to which he replies no, he can remember that.

Then the wife changes her mind and asks for a bowl of ice cream with whipped topping, she suggests he might want to write that down, but the husband replies he can remember that. Then the woman once again changes her mind and says she wants a bowl of ice cream with a cherry on top and says to her husband, “You might want to write that down.” The man, of course declares, he can remember that.

So the man goes to the kitchen and is gone an unusually long time. He eventually comes back to his wife and hands her a plate of eggs and bacon. The wife stares at the plate for a moment then asks her husband, “Where’s the toast?”

Someone who is able to develop a humorous perspective can create psychological distance from feelings of depression, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed. Humor can diffuse difficult feelings and conflict while lifting a person’s mood. Laughing with other people can strengthen relationships, foster a sense of closeness and help diminish feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Achieving good mental health is a combination of many different factors, but humor should play an important role in maintaining and developing positive feelings. Sharing humor with others and keeping a humorous mentality in life can make day to day struggles much easier and prevent depression from escalating.

I was talking to my mom one day and I asked her, “How do you know so much? Do you have ESP?” she replied “I don’t have ESP, I just know things.” 

I’ve told this little nugget of information many times, including to my then 16-year-old granddaughter Katie Mac. We were having a talk one day and I repeated my little story. A few weeks later we were once again having a conversation and I asked her a question, to which she replied, “I don’t have ESPN, I just know things.” 

That’s what happens when you don’t listen. We both had a good laugh. Sometimes you find humor in your own backyard.

Overfield is an advocate for the National Alliance of Mental Illness of Park County, (307) 250-2978.

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