Why the best medicine costs you nothing

How to keep laughing for better health

  • Proof that laughter is one of the best natural medicines
  •  The stress-relief and immunity booster that costs you nothing (but can be tricky to find these days)
  •  It can even relieve your pain

I’ve always disliked it when people say, “Cheer up!”.

It’s as if they think that simply by commanding me to be happy, my entire mood will change instantly, like flicking a switch.

Far better would be to cheer me up by saying something funny, revelatory, interesting or entertaining.

However, if you do wish to feel instantly cheerier, (for your own good and not because someone commands it) then there is a way to activate the cheery button inside your brain.

Think of it as a kind of ‘pick me up’ technique for when you need to get out of a mental rut.

This is what I want to show you in today’s letter.

A natural solution to ‘bad news syndrome’

If you’ve been paying attention to my recent ramblings, you’ll know that I’ve been discussing the impact of constant bad news… that daily bombardment of worrying information via our smartphones, laptops, TVs and radios.

  • It’s bad for our sleep patterns… which in turn can affect our mood, weight and energy levels.
  • It’s bad for our stress levels and general mental health.
  • And it’s bad for our immune systems. Not ideal in a time when we all need to keep our immune systems in the best possible shape.

This theme has struck a chord with some readers, who’ve emailed me their methods of coping with the anxiety of a chaotic, occasionally frightening world.

Valerie emailed me to say: “I totally agree that the constant drip of bad news is detrimental to health.”

However, as she warns, the solution is not to simply cover your eyes and ears, pretending that everything is always fine.

“I have long been a fan of Tony Robbins,” she writes, “and he’s not in favour of positive thinking on the basis of  going into your garden and repeating ‘There are no weeds, no weeds no weeds.’ This does not stop them from taking over your garden.”

She says: “His idea is that you see things as they are, then think how you would like them to be and TAKE ACTION to move in the right direction to achieve your aim. In other words, it is taking positive action which makes you feel better.”

Absolutely, and that’s certainly worth thinking about.

One of my own methods of reducing stress when it gets too much is to write down everything that’s truly bothering me (being as brutally honest with myself as possible) then separating them into two lists:


The first list is designed to make me accept the reality and come to terms with it; there’s no point in wasting energy and effort on something you cannot possibly change.

The second list is designed to rid me of those anxieties, irritants and stresses that I can actually deal with.

Next to each entry I write down the solution, with some specific ways I can take action.

Even the act of writing this stuff down, I find, lifts a lot of the worry.

Or for a quicker fix, you can try this…

How to activate your happiness trigger

My reader has another tip from Mr Robbins that I’d like to pass onto you.

It’s a quick way you can force your mind and body to shift into a better mood.

She writes: “If you move your mouth into a smile, it activates the part of your brain associated with happiness – in the same way that the brain makes you smile. I have found that this works quite well and also seems to cheer up people you meet!”

It might sound odd at first. The idea of forcing a smile in order to create a sense of happiness. But this idea is at the root of ‘laughter yoga’, a practice developed by Indian physician Dr Madan Kataria.

The idea is that participants try to laugh in groups for 15 to 20 minutes.

To start, everyone forces the laughter, which can seem a bit weird. But when you watch and listen to people laughing, the neurons in your brain start to mirror that emotional experience.

Soon the forced laughing turns into spontaneous laughter. And then, eventually, uncontrollable belly laughs.

There are huge benefits to doing this, because laughter causes physical changes to happen to your body:

  • It releases neuropeptides that help fight stress and boost immunity
  • It increases the mood enhancing endorphins released by your brain
  • It reverses the stress response, decreasing serum cortisol levels and decreasing epinephrine
  • It stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles
  • It helps increase your intake of oxygen-rich air
  • It boosts and then regulates your heart rate and blood pressure
  • It can help reduce the sensation of pain

An example of this is described in the book, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient by Norman Cousins, which reveals that he used 10 minutes of deep belly laughs per day to help him sleep, pain-free, and reduce the symptoms of his arthritis.

On top of all this, proper belly laughing has swift and powerful mental effects:

  • It instantly reduces tension
  • It creates feelings of bonding with others
  • It allows you to see the funny or lighter side of troubling situations

So if there’s one simple, free thing you can do today to improve your health, that’s to laugh – properly laugh!

  • Try watching funny YouTube videos or download a stand-up comedy show. Ideally, watch it with someone else, as we tend to laugh when there are other people laughing with us.
  • Or get on a zoom call with your closest friends, or funniest family members, and try and make yourselves laugh in a group. Maybe dig out the most embarrassing photos from your youth or share the most hilarious mishaps of your life.
  • Try listening to recordings of babies laughing – or watch videos of people breaking into laughter (blooper reels from films where actors start ‘corpsing’ are good for that).

Whatever makes you laugh, seek it out, and see if you can use the laughter of other people (online or offline) to help get you in the mood.