“Of all days, the day on which one has not laughed is the one most surely wasted.” ~ Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort

Do you want a guaranteed, easy way to improve your mood and your health? Try smiling.

Dr. William Fry, a physician and researcher, has studied humor for 20 years and found that it is good for us. Good not only for our mood, but for our health as well.

Laughter relieves stress and improves our immune system. Laughing has been described as an internal jog because it massages our inner organs while giving them a workout. Smiling exercises our facial muscles, and when we laugh our blood pressure goes up but soon comes down. We also stretch our lungs, relax our chests, and breathe easier. Laughter causes our bodies to release neurochemical compounds associated with an improved mood.

When we can laugh at something, we change our perspective and our attitude. It is hard to have a grumpy outlook when laughing. As we laugh, we momentarily distract ourselves from our problems and, perhaps, even from our physical discomfort. Life just seems to get better when we can laugh.

How frequently do you laugh? How often do you smile? Research has found that four-year-old children smile and laugh about 400 times a day while for many adults smiles and laughter decrease to only a few times per day. Four-year-olds are often joyous, and adults are not. What happens between childhood and adulthood? What is the difference?

It may be that as we become serious-minded, hard-working adults, we lose our sense of humor along with the spontaneity and freedom of laughter. Such a loss is unfortunate because humor can be healing.

It has been said, “He who laughs, lasts.” If you want some assurance that you will last, you may need to improve your sense of humor. This can be a challenging task because you may accurately claim that you don’t have much to laugh about. It is hard to force yourself to laugh, especially, when you don’t feel like it. You can, however, make yourself smile. Forcing yourself to smile may work almost as well as laughing, at least, for changing your mood.

Putting a big smile on your face sends a message to your brain that things are okay. If you are smiling, your brain thinks, “I must be happy.” You can fool yourself into feeling good by smiling, and as your mood improves, you open yourself to new possibilities. Other people, seeing your smile and noticing your brightened mood, respond differently to you. Soon you may be laughing as well as smiling. Life is getting better because you smiled.

Be sure you smile today. Smile on purpose, even if you don’t feel like it. See if you can fool yourself into a good mood. As the saying goes, “Fake it until you make it.” Intentionally smile. Laugh, if you can. Humor is good for you. It improves your mood and your health. Practice smiling and see if your life begins to go better.

-Dan Johnston Ph.D.