The first Sunday of May is celebrated as World Laughter Day

Two kids need care and support. Her name is ‘Smile’; he is called ‘Laughter’.

She is soft, docile and quiet. In contrast, he is energetic, audible and extrovert. While her quiet charm has to be noticed, his vocal behaviour would turn heads. They are siblings of the same parentage, children of a chemical called ‘serotonin’, the happy hormone, located deep inside the hippocampus of the human brain.

The information superhighway of the human brain is a tangled mass of millions of nerve cells connected by a complex system of network, governed by an array of powerful chemicals, called neurotransmitters. During periods of acute stress, one class of such hormone, ‘catecholamine’, boosts up our blood pressure and heartbeat, making us ready to ‘fight’ or ‘run away’. This system was intended for use only as an emergency measure, like confronting an attacking predator.

Stress in modern times

But today’s modern man is under acute stress 24/7. The predator, too, has changed its profile. Parents are threatened over the scholastic levels of their children; children, in turn, are stressed out by the daily grind of round-the-clock tuition. The master of the house is worried about his job and his wife, about the ‘outlaws’ on the streetcorner, and the ‘in-laws’ at home. Chronic stress results in persistent elevation of stress hormones, damaging the system. What was supposed to be a ‘fire engine,’ to be used only in an emergency, is now put into service as an everyday commuter bus! High blood pressure, loss of sleep, fatigue, and palpitation … the effects are endless.

The brain also has a neurotransmitter called ‘serotonin’, the happy hormone. The higher its level, the happier you are. Most antidepressant drugs used for treatment of pathologically depressed patients act by boosting the blood levels of serotonin by altering their metabolism.

Smile and laughter are expressions of happiness, but then there is more.

On January 30, 1962, in a boarding school at Kashasha on the western coast of Lake Victoria in Tanzania, three girls started laughing. The laughter spread to hundreds of students in the next few days assuming epidemic proportions, needing closure of the school. This proved that laughter is infectious.

Professional comedians on stage exploit this phenomenon by starting off laughing after their humour and, in time, the entire audience breaks down laughing.

Laughing has been shown to relieve stress because, during and immediately after a hearty laugh, the human system cannot feel sad or morose. A good laugh has been shown to favourably alter the brain neurotransmitters. Reduction of ‘catecholamine’ (stress hormone), increase in ‘serotonin’ (happy hormone) and increase in ‘endorphins’. Endorphins are a group of hormones that modulate response to pain, similar in structure to morphine, the most powerful analgesic known to man. Improvement of social bonding, reduction of blood pressure and increase in immunity to infections are some of the broad-spectrum benefits credited to a hearty laugh.

Madan Kataria, a doctor from Mumbai, known as the ‘Giggling Guru’, started Laughter Yoga in 1995. The first Sunday of May is celebrated as World Laughter Day (WLD). Let us start celebrating with a smile and break into a laughter. Everyday of every month for one year, and then every year the rest of our life. A family that laughs together stays together.

Welcome home both kids. While ‘smile’ opens the door, ‘laughter’ would hug you.

(The writer is Head, Dept of Cardiology, PRS Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram. Email is tinynair@gmail.com)

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