Above: Image © oneinchpunch, iStockphoto.com

[JD and Turk are lying on the ground] Why are we lying in the parking lot?

Turk: Your hook shot knocked you unconscious and I lied down next to you so everybody would think we were chillin'.

J.D.: Oh. Thanks S.C.B. By the way I should tell you something. I found an apartment and I'm moving out the day after tomorrow.

Turk: Wow. What does S.C.B. mean?

J.D.: Super. Chocolate. Bear.

Turk: I love it.

This is just one of the many scenes of comedy television shows that may spark a chuckle out of a viewer or even cause them to laugh out loud. Laughter is one of life's most important tools and although we often associate it with comedy TV shows or movies, we use it for much more than you might think.

Most of you would probably say we laugh because something is funny or comical. But what about laughing because you're shy, embarrassed, happy, tense, or even being mean?

When Toronto-resident Denise Rackett was in high school, she discovered that laughing was the best social skill she would ever need; but that it was also a means to hurt and embarrass. This eventually led her to found a laughter club in her community that teaches many groups of people, including teens, how to laugh in their everyday lives.

In her workshops with teens, Denise discovered that many of them had a hard time laughing. She concluded — and other researchers agree — that with so much physical, emotional, and mental changes around us, being a teen isn't easy, and laughing about it can be even harder.

What Happens When We Laugh

There is a lot more to laughing than just the ha ha ha's. From a basic physiological level, there are some major changes happening to our bodies. About 15 of our facial muscles contract, our larynx closes up making us breathe funny and sometimes gasp for air, and sometimes we even start to cry.

Nerves send signals to our brains that tell us to make sounds and actions. As part of these signals, our bodies release natural pain relievers called endorphins ("of morphine") that calm us down and make us feel better. In fact, this latter effect is very similar to what happens during healthy exercise and laughing is considered to be an "internal aerobic workout".

 

Did You Know?
If you were able to sustain a belly-laugh for one full hour, you could laugh off as many as 500 calories! While our bodies all work in much the same way when we laugh, the form each person's laughter takes can be entirely different. Some of us laugh outwardly with hoots, cackles, or guffaws; while others guard their laughter a little more, giggling, chuckling, or sniggering.

Why We Laugh

The first is the incongruity theory — that we laugh when we expect one outcome but get another. Like when we hear a joke — we laugh because the answer surprises us.

The second is the superiority theory — that we laugh at another's expense. It might be hard to admit to this one, but here's where laughter can be hurtful. We've all been caught in situations where we laugh at someone's mistake or stupidity. But flip the card, and it's hard to laugh at yourself when you've made a mistake.

The final theory is used often by movie directors - the relief theory. In movies, for example, a very tense, stressful scene will be broken — or relieved — by a bit of comedy to ease the anxiety. The audience is calmer and laughs to let go of tension.

 

Did You Know?
When you laugh, you lose muscular control (fall over, bend over or wet yourself) Laughter As Medicine

Through the laughter club, Denise Rackett runs laughter workshops and laughter yoga classes and firmly believes in the psychological and healing powers of laughter.

"I often tell people that there are four myths about laughter," says Denise. "That you need a reason to laugh; that you need to be happy to laugh; that a sense of humour and laughter are the same; and that we need scientific proof before we truly believe that it's good for us".

Not true! Science has proved that laughter is good for us. It's a great internal workout, it boosts the immune system by increasing the number of infection-fighting T-cells, and helps lessens the emotional downs of life. Laughter also reduces stress by reducing the levels of adrenaline and the hormone cortisol in the blood and also helps lower high blood pressure. It really works, and we don't always need a reason to do it!

 

Did You Know?
When we laugh, we gulp in air, causing us to increase our oxygen intake. This helps the oxygen move a lot faster to already relaxed muscles. Her advice to teens? "Don't lose the ability to laugh at yourself for the right reasons. This will help develop your own unique sense of humour and will be a resource for you as you go through life. And remember, it's easier to laugh in a group then it is to laugh alone, so surround yourself with happy positive motivated people."

So go on, grab a group of friends or take that half hour in front of the TV and watch a good comedy because there is scientific truth in the old saying: He who laughs... lasts!

Learn More!

Scrubs on NBC

Scrubs Quotes from the Internet Movie Database

A Dose of Laughter Medicine. Click Here

Laughing is the Best Medicine. Click Here

How Stuff Works: Laughter

Denise Rackett is the founder of the High Park Laughter Club and offers Health Benefits of Laughter workshops for teens through the Toronto District School Board. Students can register at www.learn4life.ca, or contact Denise at laughtoronto@yahoo.ca. For more information about laughter clubs across the country visit www.laughtoronto.com and follow the links.

Jessica Kosmack works in communications and special events in Toronto. She's a graduate of the University of Guelph (International Business & French), and Centennial College (Corporate Communications).

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