For the past few weeks, I’ve been delving into some serious topics — loneliness, paradigms, moving on from difficult times, etc. Well, it’s August — the end of summer — a time when most people are attempting to squeeze in those last summertime “wish list” activities — hitting the beach, attending outdoor arts and sporting events, taking a vacation, or just chilling outside with a cocktail. It’s the last ditch effort to rejuvenate before the frenetic fall season arrives.
However you choose to enjoy the remaining few weeks of summer, I’m pretty sure that you don’t want to immerse yourself in serious and possibly challenging topics. So, over the next three weeks, I’m keeping it light and breezy, plus I’m taking the last week in August (8/31) off for my own rejuvenation.
In the vein of light and breezy, today I’m writing about humor and laughter and how important they are for your health, both mentally and physically.
A few weeks ago, three close friends and I rented an old farm house on a river in upstate NY for three nights. With Airbnb, you never know what you’re going to walk into — from my experience, though, it’s been as envisioned or even better. This property, on the other hand, was a bit more funky, worn, and dirty than the pictures showed and what we expected. However, it did have that old country charm — plus a usable fire pit, a gourmet stove, and access to the river where we could swim in the cool, flowing river — so our hesitancy about staying dissipated quickly.
Now, I’m not here to offer up a travelogue of our stay but to make a point. Kitty and I have been very close friends for 19 years, and over that time, we have developed a secret “language” that nobody understands. We have our own code words, phrases, and special quotes that trigger hysterical laughter. Tom, her husband, and Michelle, our close friend and my roommate, just watch us with “here they go again” bemused smiles.
In any event, although the trip was fantastic in so many ways, the one thing that resonated for me was the amount of laughter we all shared. I’m not talking giggles and chuckles, I’m talking about full on tear-inducing, gut-aching laughter that could and did knock us to our knees. I remember leaving and thinking how wonderful it was to have these amazing people in my life who could find humor in almost every circumstance. That realization kept me in a positive and happy place for days.
The sound of bellowing laughter is much more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. When we share laughter, it brings us together and increases cheerfulness and familiarity. Why is that? Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural “feel-good” chemical, which promotes an overall sense of well-being — it can even briefly relieve pain.
Humor and laughter strengthen our immune system, boost our energy, and protect us from the damaging effects of stress. According to Mi Youn Cha and Hae Sook Hong, researchers from South Korea, “Laughter can have an effect similar to antidepressants by activating the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, the same brain chemical affected by the most common types of antidepressants.”
Best of all, this “tonic” is easy, enjoyable, and free.
According to WebMD, “We change physiologically when we laugh. The muscles of our face and body stretch, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen to our tissues.” Laughter relaxes the entire body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving our muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes afterward — a sort of mini-workout. Steve Wilson, a psychologist and laugh therapist writes, "The effects of laughter and exercise are very similar. Combining laughter and movement, like waving your arms, is a great way to boost your heart rate."
Although the findings are appealing, don’t cancel that gym membership yet. At the rate of 50 calories per hour, losing one pound would require about 12 hours of continuous laughter!
Another study found that having a sense of humor was the second most desired trait (intelligence ranked #1). Women ranked it first, while men ranked it third — after intelligence and good looks (not really surprised with that finding). Interestingly, humor also correlates with intimacy, trust, dependability, and kindness. In the book, Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why, “…people who rate highly on tests of intimacy also have a good sense of humor. The same goes for trust, dependability, and kindness.”
Occasionally, some of us have a tendency to take ourselves a bit too seriously, especially when we’re stressed, annoyed, or frightened. More often than not, these feelings can make us less effective in dealing with these challenging situations, and in extreme cases, may actually cause the problem itself, or, at the very least, exacerbate it.
The ability to laugh at our foibles not only makes us happier as a person, it also makes us more influential, more successful, and more attractive to others. When we take ourselves less seriously, we're able to see the humor in situations, look at the bright side when things don't go the way we think they should, and navigate through the highs and lows of life a bit easier.
And honestly, if you can’t laugh at yourself, there’s a good chance someone else is doing it for you.
Time to Dine: Cooking for Joan
This past weekend, my friend, Becca, came over to help me with a home improvement project. Although I’m handier now than when I moved into the apartment, I still need help hanging pictures — especially in a pre-war building with VERY tricky walls. And as I thought, the project took much longer than expected — sometimes nail and hook, sometimes a screw with an anchor, and given that the walls were so uneven, well, you get the proverbial picture.
As a thank you for the help, I made brunch for Becca. Fortunately, I went the cold brunch route, so no worries about ruined food due to the extra, long process. I served smoked salmon, dill cream cheese, capers, onions, chopped egg, bagels, and berries. Of course, the obligatory mimosa also made an appearance. A couple of days later, I was looking for something to eat for lunch and remembered I still had leftovers from brunch. I had a little of everything left and I thought, I can make egg salad with this — and I did. It was so incredibly tasty, this mini brunch on an English muffin, that it is definitely going into the cookbook!
Egg Salad with Smoked Salmon, Capers & Dill
Prep Time: 15 min | Cook Time: 0 min | Makes: 4 main course/8 appetizer | Difficulty: Easy
- 6 large hard boiled eggs
- 6 oz. cold-smoked salmon, diced (1 cup)
- 1/2 small red onion, diced (about 2/3 cup)
- 1/3 cup capers, drained
- 3 Tbs. mayonnaise
- 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
- 1 Tbs. Relish (optional)
- 2 Tbs. minced fresh dill
- 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel the eggs, chop finely, and put them in a medium bowl.
Add the salmon, capers, mayonnaise, mustard, relish, onion, dill, and zest.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Toss gently but well and serve.
*Image Courtesy of NewEvolution