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The Science of Laughter
© 2010 Carole Fawcett

The title I chose for this article makes me smile. The science of laughter? Laughter, one of the things we used to take for granted, is now the subject of scientific study. In some ways it's quite surprising what has been discovered, but in other ways, it's probably not surprising at all. After all, we know intuitively that it is good for us.

While studying the effects of laughter, Dr. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University in California proved that laughter boosts the immune system. Dr. Robert Provine's book, Laughter - a Scientific Investigation, documents that even Chimps laugh, although with different stimuli. In his book, Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins, a respected journalist, wrote about how he dealt with the diagnosis of ankolysing spondilitis, an arthritic condition that left him bedridden and in horrible pain. With his Physicians permission, Norman moved out of the hospital and into a motel. His idea was to remove himself from the pain and suffering of others and create a pleasant environment, where he watched funny movies sent to him by his friends in Hollywood. He made the happy discovery that ten minutes of belly laughter gave him 2 hours of pain free sleep. He recuperated and went on to live many more productive years.

We know that laughter is one of the best ways to relieve stress, but it has many other benefits as well. It is, as Norman Cousins once said, likened to internal jogging for the inner organs. As an aerobic exercise it is very good for the heart and lungs. The word aerobic means "with oxygen", so laughing increases the amount of oxygen in the body and this in turn, is very good for the respiratory system. It can help to lower blood pressure; it increases endorphins (the body's natural morphine), serotonin levels increase and other important stress fighting chemicals are released as well. In fact, one study showed that serotonin, when put into a test tube with cancer cells, killed the cancer cells. It seems that laughter can help to heal our bodies.

When I explain that, as a laughter therapist, I teach people how to laugh, I get many interesting responses. Since the body cannot differentiate between simulated and stimulated laughing, it may feel awkward at first to pretend to laugh. But with a willingness to step out of one's comfort zone, simulated laughter soon turns into genuine guffaaaaaws. People who are struggling with unresolved life issues may have a difficult time with this concept, but for those who can participate, it's truly a delightfully upbeat way to combat stress. I am fond of saying that "laughter begets laughter", and once you get used to that idea, you might be surprised at how much you can achieve by smiling and laughing your way through each day.

It's a sad fact that, as children, we likely laughed 300 - 400 times a day, but now, as adults, we are lucky if we laugh 12 times a day. While in the 1930's it was estimated that people laughed approximately 16 - 18 minutes daily, it is estimated that now we are doing well if we manage to laugh for six minutes every day.

Laughter is very good for us, feels good and is enjoyable as well. We don't need to go through each day with "terminal seriousness". Even for those of us who work in difficult environments, maintaining our sense of humour and being able to laugh at the challenges that face us daily, will help us to be happier people at the end of each day. A positive attitude will not only help us to feel better, plus have a beneficial effect on our general health, but it will have a wonderful spin-off effect on the people around us. Remember, "if you're happy, tell your face".

Mind Choices
© 2010 Carole Fawcett

It was a rough week. We all have them. I'm happy it was only a week. I used to have rough years. I had to pull on all my resources to remain calm and centered. I believe that we attract what we experience. So, for some reason I had attracted energy that felt like it discounted me and it was painful.

At least that is what my mind observed. Then, when I felt undervalued I responded accordingly, which probably did not endear me to those whose behaviour triggered my feelings of 'less than' to begin with. It's a circle thing - someone's behaviour or words/actions create angst or pain and then we react to this, creating in turn, more angst and pain and on it goes. It's hard to give a quality effort to a job, a friend, a relationship or anything that involves other human beings, when your own feelings of self worth are undermined or seemingly not valued. But while it is not an easy thing, we can choose how we respond and refrain from taking any of it personally. It takes a focused awareness of what is happening to arrive at this place and put it into practice on a daily basis.

I know this, as I do my best to achieve this as much as possible. But, every now and then I slip and negative words crawl into my mind and start to work their poison. Soon, I am on the train of only-being-aware-of-negative-energy.

It's almost as though I have several universes in my one mind. I cross over to different universes dependant upon the experiences of my day. Mostly I only stay in the positive space, but this week I gave the power to others to push me into a temporary negative space. But thankfully, my stay there was short lived. (Like an unwelcomed guest, I pushed the negativity out my minds door)

Of course, it is not just me. I am talking about all of us. Life is complex. The negativity gains entry by triggering the baggage we all carry around. No matter how much baggage we think we have dumped, there is always more to be opened and gone through. When some wise sage once said that our purpose in life is to find the joy within, I used to think how ridiculously simplistic that sounded.

I now believe that this is our purpose and know that it is anything but simple. It is a complicated journey and if we can, we learn from our experiences with others and grow from it.

So when you have a bad day, week or month, look within to see if you can find the part you played to create this experience. It can be challenging and difficult, but you'll come out the end of your introspection a kinder and more patient person. You'll learn to keep the words and feelings that nurture you and you'll dispose of those that don't.

To quote Author Annie Dillard. "How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives". Choose to live your days with joy and life will become pleasant. When negativity in any form, knocks on your minds door, refuse entry.

Mother Nature
© 2010 Carole Fawcett

I am very fortunate and rent a little cottage on acreage in the country. The house is small and very cozy, tucked away on the side of the lot. Behind me is an apple orchard. It is an idyllic setting and is enhanced by the animal and bird life I experience. It is my personal healing and de-stressing zone.

I hang humming bird feeders and I also put out bird seed for the birds. I do this year 'round. So this attracts an amazing (and constant) variety of birds. The hummingbirds are truly amazing wee birds. I love watching them hover near the feeder, assessing whether or not they should sit on the perch and have a drink. They do of course and it's a gift to be able to observe them up close. They are so delicate like mini helicopters as they zoom forwards, backwards, up and down.

Whenever I look outside, it is pure eye candy. Just today, I saw morning doves, humming birds, a male pheasant, quail, sparrows, a variegated woodpecker and chickadees. Also visiting with some regularity are lazuli buntings, red winged black birds, rufus sided towhees, orioles and stellar jays from time to time.

My favourite have to be the quail. They gather under the big ponderosa pine and murmur and cluck amongst themselves as they peck at the fallen seeds They seem to be such busy-bodies and appear to be very social as they all eat together. Sometimes they quarrel and there is great leaping and road-runner type scooting about, looking indignant and huffy.

Two days ago I watched as a mischievous magpie jumped onto my feeder purposefully making it swing, so that the seed would fall to the ground. He would then jump down and gobble up as much as he could. I watched as he repeated this exercise several times. He had figured out he was too big to fit on the feeder and was bound and determined to obtain his share of the seed. He ended with a nice long refreshing drink from the birdbath, nearly tipping it over as he flew off.

Then there was the time that a moose (yearling) was caught in the orchard. I was sitting at my computer very early one summer morning when out of the corner of my eye I saw a rather huge form move past the window. "Wow, that's a big deer" I thought. I looked out and saw the back end of a moose majestically walking in between the apple trees.

While still in my night attire, I grabbed my camera and went to run out the door, when I realized that the automatic sprinklers were on. So, when one sprinkler moved to one side, I'd run to a big tree and hide behind it. Then another sprinkler would change direction and I'd run to the corner of the storage hut, and then the final sprinkler would change and I sneak down the side of the hut to hide behind the bushes. Of course by this time my pj's were wet and my slippers were sodden as well. The moment I'd give up and return to my computer, Mr. Moose would wander by again. I'd go out again, with the same results. I did this several times and the last time, the moose actually stopped and looked in the window at me. He might as well have said "nyah, nyah, nyah". It was one of those funny moments in life and I remember laughing out loud and thinking how smart he was.

Mother Nature is the best stress reliever. Slow down and enjoy the buffet she has to offer.

My Excellent Adventure
© 2010 Carole Fawcett

It's been an interesting couple of weeks. I have had an excellent adventure that was special, wonderful and memorable.

I had been asked to do a "Wake Up To Laughter" presentation in Creston, B.C. So when I told my friends about my presentation and that it would be included in a day called "The Journey of a Woman" their interest was piqued. So, four of us packed our bags, jumped into the car and drove to Creston. Woo Hoo!

It was a beautiful drive with the Autumn colours at the height of their glory. The air was fresh and clean smelling and it felt great to be alive. We started feeling energized almost immediately. We tentatively explored how far we could go with one another and soon learned there were no boundaries. We got as far as Hwy 33 and we were sharing like we'd known each other for decades. With apologies to Helen Reddy, "We are women, hear us roar!"

Two of us work in the same type of environment and the other two work in unrelated jobs. One of us is a bean counter. (which was handy because when it came to figuring out the bill at meal times, the rest of us couldn't have calculated our way out of a penny jar!) I mean, try figuring out 15% without a calculator. Jeeez Louise.

It was truly one of those woman-bonding weekends. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Then we laughed some more. Our laughter on the return trip became that noisy snorting laughter, followed by silent laughter. You know what I mean, the type where you-can-barely-breathe-laughter.

Our topics of discussion were varied and included our workplaces, our children, women's issues and of course the opposite sex. We spoke of life and death, our hopes and dreams, how we feel about aging and so much more. We were four like-minded women on a journey of bonding and friendship.

We attended the day long event and loved every single minute of it. Included was a wonderful woman who spoke with emotion about her experience with the residential school system, a session on body image and the stereotypic nonsense that goes along with that. We made a collage of our journey in life, we drummed, we danced and laughed. It was a delightful day planned by a vibrant and creative group of women in Creston.

I couldn't help but think of the irony that exists there. While we were celebrating our womanhood, I thought of those oppressed woman souls at Bountiful. (the polygamist community about 1 hour outside of Creston)

I know we all grew in some manner that weekend. Perhaps the laughter was cathartic for all of us for different reasons. One of us said their face hurt from laughing so much. Another said their stomach muscles were getting a work-out. The more you laugh, the more laughter will be attracted into your life. It will change your world.

Just prior to my excellent adventure to Creston, I had been told that I was intimidating. (a.k.a. strong woman who knows her own mind and isn't afraid to say it). At the time it was said, it felt hurtful and took me by surprise.

So after sharing this with my three car-mates, they took every opportunity to add "well, that's because you are so intimidating" after everything I said. It was hilariously freeing.

They understood that there is still the double standard of how men and women are perceived. A strong man is admired. A strong woman is called intimidating. Strong women themselves, they have no doubt experienced similar situations.

Thank you my friends for your friendship, support and laughter. While the work I have chosen to do is always fun, it would not have been quite as much fun had I gone alone. This particular wave of joy will feed me for a long, long time. Like the James Brown song says, I feel good!

Said Robin to Sparrow
© 2010 Carole Fawcett

Said the Robin to the Sparrow, "I should really like to know, why these anxious human beings rush about and worry so". This was part of a poem written by E. Cheney in the 1930's. Here we are 70 years after that poem was written and it still speaks to us. So perhaps some things never change.

September has arrived with all its busyness. School has started, clubs start to meet again, tourists leave and we get back to the business of work.

We start off with good intentions and lots of renewed energy. Then we do it. We over-schedule ourselves. By the time October/November arrives we are feeling like our stress levels have gone over the edge.

If you work at a job where deadlines have to be met all day long, (and most of us do) then go home and continue to do the same in your personal environment, you can expect to have some repercussions.

You could become emotionally fragile, your immune system could be compromised and you may become vulnerable to the virus of the month, plus health issues you already have could worsen.

Sound familiar? Of course it does, because you already know this stuff.

Despite the fact that stress can be a pain in the neck (quite literally) we continue to perpetuate our self destructive habits. We fool ourselves into thinking that it won't affect us. Or, in our arrogance, we buy into the belief that no one else can do the job. Denial is a powerful belief.

What could you change in your life that would lessen the stress? Set aside some time for yourself. Studies have shown that meditation is a wonderful stress diffuser. This does not mean you have to sit like a yogi in a trance-like state (although if you can, that's great too).

You could go for a walk and enjoy the visual feast of our world. Play with the dog or a child. Divert your attention from the things that are creating stress in your life.

If you can change some of the things that create stress in your life, then do it, but if you can't, find diversionary techniques to help you cope. Do what a good friend of mine does. Plan to have personal time on your days off.

Your mind and body (to say nothing of friends and family) will be happier as you welcome calmness back into your life.

We can choose not to "rush about and worry so". Make that choice today.

Laughter - The Best Stress Reliever
© 2010 Carole Fawcett

It's free, we've known about it for centuries and there have been ongoing studies about it for decades. It's one of the best ways to relieve stress. I'm talking about laughter of course. Just thinking about it makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I can feel the giggles getting ready to bubble out as I type. But then I'm a giggler and proud to be one. You can be a giggler too if you wish. But, if you have a tendency to look at life as though the glass is half empty, you might have to work a bit harder. Think back to your childhood and ask yourself these questions. Were you told to "stop laughing" or told "don't be so silly" or "grow up, it's not funny". Were you programmed to view the world as a very serious place? Was the message you received one of "you have to be serious to be successful?"

A slight shift in how you think about life can help you move from seldom smiling or laughing to seeing the funnier side of life more easily. Or, you can learn how to do simulated laughter exercises. The body does not know the difference between the genuine thing and fake laughter.

The physical benefits of laughter (fake or real) are:
  • Decrease in adrenalin (which is released when you are stressed)
  • Increase in heart rate (aerobic exercise)
  • Increase in circulation (a problem we all have as we age)
  • Decrease in blood pressure (big bonus here)
  • Increase body's ability to digest food (helps your metabolism work more efficiently)
  • Increase in respiratory activity (great for asthmatics)
  • Increase in blood oxygen levels (good for all parts of the body - especially the brain)
Psychologically, laughter is therapeutic and can help to increase your rapport with others, help to improve communication, decrease anxiety and tension, help to diffuse anger, is a great coping mechanism and definitely makes learning easier and more fun. Learning how to look at the funny side of life can also help with depression.

We know that stress causes illness. Dr. Hans Selye proved this with his discovery of the "fight or flight" response in the body. Basically, stress is our body's response to a negative (or positive) stimulus. For most of us this is a learned response. If our body releases the harmful stress chemicals too many times we become ill. So learning how to get in touch with your inner child, giving yourself permission to see the funny side of life, changing your attitude and making better choices can all work together to make your life less stressful and more joyful. It is all part of a healthier lifestyle and goes hand in hand with good nutrition and exercise.

We used to laugh for 20 minutes out of every day. Now, it is estimated we only laugh for 6 minutes daily. We have become "terminally serious". The lifestyle that was supposed to happen (more leisure time, more money for less work) didn't. We have become workaholics and we are making ourselves sick.

Look at your life and assess how much you laugh (or smile) each day. Milton Berle was right when he said, "Laughter is an instant vacation". Do yourself a favour and plan yours today.

Gratitude - The Pathway to Happiness
© 2010 Carole Fawcett

As I wrote this, I was enveloped with the warmth of gratitude. You may remember that the last column I wrote, spoke of anonymously gifting others. Well, I've been the recipient of this very activity. Just prior to Christmas I received an anonymous letter in the mail that enclosed something very helpful and wonderful. I don't think I am capable of articulating how special this made me feel. I had experienced a challenging day at work the day before and was still feeling the effects of that day when the letter arrived. The wonderful letter, the gift and the kind words it held changed my energy. Thank you so much to whoever this was. My heart is spilling over with gratitude.

Gratitude. The spiritual practice of gratitude can be called a state of mind and a way of life. To bring more of this into your life, practice acknowledging all the good things you experience every day. Make it your way of being and life will seem to improve almost immediately. When I find that perfect parking spot, I always say a quiet "thank you". When I drive up to where I live (a beautiful location), I say "thank you". When my dog greets me with wiggling glee, I laugh and say "thank you". This is a great habit to cultivate, as it forces your mind to focus on the good in your life. I am not suggesting that you turn into Pollyanna, but I am promising that what you choose to focus on will grow. That's a fact. You might well choose to "grow" happiness because of the wonderfully positive effects it has on your mind and body.

There was a time for me when every day felt horrible. Days, months and even years, were full of worry, pain, fatigue and sadness. I had health issues, loss issues, money issues and life issues in general. I felt miserable and angry that my life was not going in the direction I had hoped. So without consciously realizing what I was doing, I had focused on the negatives and they became almost insurmountable in my mind. These thoughts affected my physical health too. I became sick and tired of being sick and tired, as the saying goes. Then I discovered gratitude. It became my personal challenge to see the good in my life on a daily basis. I had a light bulb moment and quite by chance, stumbled across my prescription for personal happiness. Teaching others to be therapeutic clowns brought me more joy than is possible to describe in this short column. Educating others on the dangers of stress and then teaching them about the powerful benefits of laughter is my personal prescription for well being. It is my passion and I'm grateful that I can share this knowledge with others. It may sound a bit too syrupy, but I have proven that my journey can be joyful.

Studies have proven that people who describe themselves as being grateful are frequently more optimistic and enthusiastic about life. It is also found that they suffer less stress and apparently, are less likely to experience clinical depression.

Oprah helped to enlighten people a few years ago, by pointing out just how powerful being grateful can be. She encouraged everyone to keep a gratitude journal and write down 5 things at the end of each day that they were grateful for. Try it. It can be a powerful life changer.

Consciously create a new pathway of thought in your brain. Retrain your brain. Start off your year with a new and positive habit. Change how you think and work on developing your own attitude of gratitude.

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