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Laugh Like an Optimist

by Victor Perton

Tell a joke today.  Watch some comedy and make sure you laugh out loud.  Practice laughing for the fun of it.

Life may have many difficulties, but there’s usually a funny side to every situation.

At The Centre for Optimism, we often end even the most serious conversations with a minute of laughter yoga led by or inspired by our friend the globally-renown laughter expert Ros Ben-Moshe. You can imagine our delight when Ros offered to lead us in laughter during our Australia lockdowns and recovery from the pandemic. Ros teaches laughter and wellbeing at La Trobe University.

In our Project Optimism “Habits of an Optimist” free online course, the laughter unit is immensely popular. It is narrated by Ahmad Imam who lives by the mantra “Your best is yet to come.”

University studies have shown laughter can improve your immune system. increase disease fighting antibodies and lower inflammation in the body. Laughter increases heart rate and blood flow, and has similar health benefits to exercising. Endorphins are released during laughter, which helps to relieve pain, reduce cravings and stress, and slow the ageing process.

On the science of laughter, my colleagues at Project Optimism Jenny Boymal and Nóirín Mosley wrote, “When you laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your mood, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can: Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain. Laughter also burns calories. When we laugh, the muscles between our ribs start to perform large, strong contractions. This squeezes air out of us, and makes a noise – each ‘ha ha’ in a laugh reflects one of these contractions.”

“We don’t do much else to shape the noise of laughter – it’s a very basic way of making a sound.  Finally, laughter releases powerful endorphins. One recent study on laughter shows that laughing with others releases endorphins in the brain—our own homegrown ‘feel good’ chemicals, via opioid receptors. It’s really good for our bodies.”

My cousin Karina Wegner is a psychologist in Australia’s sub-tropical Hervey Bay. Karina’s well-researched expert opinion is that “you should have as much fun as possible and laugh as much as you can. When you couple these together, you should be able to keep ‘depression’ (what they now call the disease of the 21st century) away. When you enjoy yourself and laugh, you will increase the serotonin levels in your body, thereby decreasing the risk of depression. When my clients leave my office in Queensland’s Hervey Bay, my practice manager makes sure the client is laughing or at least smiling before they leave. I have a waiting list of near three months and my clients travel long distances to see the “Optimistic Psychologist.”

As the long-running magazine Readers Digest has always said, “Laughter is the Best Medicine.”

Humour can alleviate feelings of stress and depression.

Laughter is a good sign of leadership. In The Tough-Minded Optimist by Dr Norman Vincent Peale, Dr Peale describes a man who "emanated vitality, life, optimism. I decided to see what made him tick, as they say, and went in search of him, I found him regaling several people with stories that had them all laughing. This one man was refurbishing the atmosphere for everyone."

It’s not always easy but when family and colleagues test your patience, put a smile on your face - even forced ones help. Try to find the humour in the situation and make a light-hearted comment. Not always easy, but give it a go!

Even in grief, laughter can be a relief. In the excellent resource “Grief: How Should an Optimist Comfort and Support the Grieving?” written with Trish Vejby and Christy Roberts we ask “How does an optimist comfort the grieving?” with one of the recommendations “Share stories, fond memories, things you loved about them – encourage laughter and tears.”

In our 2021 survey on optimism, an anonymous answer which appealed to me was “What makes me optimistic? Having an amazing family and friends who share both laughter and support during difficult times.”

Another participant shared, “Life has made me optimistic - knowing things go up and down as part of life. But from a pandemic perspective it has helped to be able to observe and be grateful the things that never really change around me, like the beach, the magpies in the morning and having a laugh with my parents about the anxious antics of our ancient ginger cat in the winter.”

Project Optimism’s Jenny Boymal and Nóirín Mosley suggest: Watch a funny movie with your friends and family; Invite your friends out to a funny movie or play; Surround yourself with people who make you laugh; Share a joke with friends; Do something spontaneous and silly; Play and laugh with children; and, Remember some of the funny things that have happened in your life.

In Part 3 of my book "Optimism: The How and Why", there’s a chapter on the humour of optimism which may help lighten your mood and put people at ease as you become more of an infectious optimist.  On this Centre for Optimism website, there's a page of optimism jokes too.

Otherwise, go out and buy a book of jokes or dust off those joke books gathering dust on your bookshelves.

Lee Tonitto, CEO, Australian Council of Professions

"I believe optimism is in my nature. I surround myself with positive people. I try everyday to value the small things. I support other people. I laugh everyday."

Laughter Yoga International 

"Laughter helps to create a positive mental state to deal with negative situations and negative people. It creates hope and optimism to cope with difficult times."

Arthur Brooks in The Link Between Happiness and a Sense of Humor

"Positive humor is associated with self-esteem, optimism, and life satisfaction, and with decreases in depression, anxiety, and stress. Negative humor follows the exact opposite pattern: While it can feel good in the moment, it exacerbates unhappiness."

Irene O'Garden

Keep your sense of humor. It’s tempting to take life seriously. But that just collapses the whole soufflé. Groucho Marx said, “If you find it hard to laugh at yourself, I would be happy to do it for you.” And here’s Charles M. Schulz: “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today — it’s already tomorrow in Australia.” “Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air, and you,” Langston Hughes tells us, and we can smell the truth in it.

Charlie Brooker

A lot of satire is optimistic about the human condition. It’s pointing out where things have gone wrong, so you have to believe that things could go right.”

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