A joke a day keeps the doctor away: Using humour to improve health

PHOTO: A joke a day keeps the doctor away: Using humour to improve health

SINGAPORE - Have a funny joke to share? Go on, tell it to your colleague.

It might have the unintended effect of improving your colleague's heart health, and yours.

A 2010 study by US researchers showed that people who are usually happy and enthusiastic are less likely to develop heart disease than those who tend to be glum. And the old adage 'laughter is the best medicine' doesn't just apply to the heart - research has linked laughter and humour to a whole range of ailments, from boosting our immune system to fighting cancer.

A study of nearly 3,000 healthy British adults, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that those who reported upbeat moods had lower levels of cortisol - a "stress" hormone that, when chronically elevated, may contribute to high blood pressure, abdominal obesity and dampened immune function.

One study even linked humour to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) success - where the the odds of success were greater among women who were entertained by a professional "medical clown" just after the embryos were transferred to their wombs.

And the ability to look at the funny side of life is known to improve mood, increase personal satisfaction and release endorphins, resulting in a uplifting of one's overall sense of wellbeing.

In additon, sharing that joke creates stronger emotional resilience through strengthened relationships, because "sharing a laugh about a funny situation establishes a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people, who take pleasure in the company of each other," said Dr Shyamala Thilagaratnam, Director of Preventive Health Programmes Division at the Health Promotion Board (HPB).

"Studies have indicated that individuals with a greater sense of humour would report significantly higher levels of good health as compared with those with less of a sense of humour," said Dr Thilagaratnam.

Are all forms of happiness equal?

Happiness is subjective. Many define it quite differently building on what matters to them - whether it be material wealth, being with loved ones or volunteering.

However, Dr Thilagaratnam cautioned that it is important to consider the sustained impact an action or behaviour has on happiness levels.

For instance, buying a Prada bag at a good bargain price may bring you immense excitement and joy, but you probably cannot afford to buy a new bag every day to sustain that level of happiness.

This sense of happiness is difficult to sustain and unlikely to last. A more realistic form of creating sustained happiness is to build a foundation of receiving and giving love to people around us, making sure to experience frequent positive feelings and having an optimistic outlook in life.

"These are often where truly happy people look from within and from intrinsic sources," said Dr Thilagaratnam.

Dr Thilagaratnam shares some tips to attaining happiness:

• Keep in mind that it is OK laugh at yourself - start with the small and harmless embarrassing moments. • Attempt to laugh at situations rather than bemoan them: this will help to improve your mood and the mood of people around you. • Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up: For example, you can keep a toy on your work desk or put a funny poster on the wall of your cubicle. Mingle with people who bring you positive energy, and share your joy with them and share their happiness in return. • Children are experts when it comes to play and laughter. Spend time with them or give yourself permission to be childlike once in a while, make time for yourselves to do nothing but just have fun.

As a way to interest the population in levelling up their happiness, HPB has published a tongue-in-the cheek series of 'Singapore flavoured tips', encouraging the population to take a light-hearted look at our habits and lifestyles.

Members of the public were invited to share their personal-daily-practice tips or improvise new ones in a light-hearted and humourous way on HPB's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hpbsg.

HPB has also organised Sundays @ the Park (SATP), where participants can engage in a free mind and body workout.

From yoga and zumba classes, to treasure hunts and other games, this weekly programme offers activities for physical health and mental wellbeing.

SATP is currently held at Chua Chu Kang, Sembawang and Seng Kang Riverside Parks.

Want to discover more techniques to boost your mental wellbeing? Join HPB's Enrich Your Mind programme by visiting www.enrichyourmind.sg.

yamadak@sph.com.sg