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The science of laughter: Why laughter is the best medicine

Gilda’s Laughfest promotes healthy living, by offering comedic acts.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Gilda’s Laughfest is back! The 11th annual comedy festival kicks off Thursday evening with a slate of mostly virtual events. Laughfest raises money for Gilda's Club Grand Rapids, a non-profit that provides free support for family and friends of cancer patients. 

The festival features a combination of stand-up, improv, showcases, and other seriously funny stuff. Most people enjoy laughing, but did you know it’s actually good for you? In fact, doctors say people who laugh on a regular basis have a lot to gain.

“There are a lot of benefits to laughter,” pediatric psychologist Adelle Cadieux said. “One of the great benefits is that it's a stress reliever. It makes us feel good. But it also can help with things like anxiety, depression, sleep, pain relief, as well as boost our immune system. So there are a lot of benefits to laughter. Laughter is something that we all need, especially during this last year where it's been really stressful for pretty much all of us. And when we're really stressed, laughter is a great way to kind of help reduce some of that stress, help us to feel better. It really kind of produces some endorphins, which is a chemical in the body that makes us feel good. But it also decreases some of those negative chemicals in our body that actually make us more stressed and anxious. So it really is important to spend some time engaging in things that make us laugh.”

Studies show that laughing can also be beneficial to people dealing with a disease.

“It can be helpful in a lot of ways,” Cadieux said. “It helps from the emotional standpoint. Whatever we're having to go through, whether it's a chronic disease or a very difficult medical condition, laughter can help with that stress relief. Laughter can also help with our immune system, so it does help our body to heal better. So, no, it's not necessarily going to be the cure, but it definitely is going to help our body, and it's going to help our emotional well-being.”

Laughter is also a universal language that’s easily understood in every culture around the world. It’s one of our common denominators.

“Laughing is so important to us as human beings,” Cadieux said. “It's one of the first forms of communication that develops in infants. Infants start laughing around 3 to 4 months, and so that really says something about how important laughter is in our relationships with each other and to our own well-being.”

Events like Gilda’s Laughfest not only raise money for a good cause, but, in a weird way, they promote healthy living. And this year’s event could not come at a better time.

“Anecdotally, I think all of us, coming out of a Michigan winter, the timing of the festival in March, we need to laugh and smile,” Joanne Roehm, director of Laughfest, said. “And if you look at the situation that we're in right now with COVID-19 and the isolation that many people have found, in my eyes laugh fest becomes even more important as sort of a light at the end of the tunnel, an opportunity for us to laugh - not to put a smile or face on pain or discredit any of the tough stuff that's happening - but expressing that emotion in a healthy way and helping to stimulate those endorphins and be able to laugh and look forward to what's coming.”

This year’s laughfest is virtual, which is a major change from previous years. But the event coordinators are embracing the change and making the most of the opportunity to reach more people.

“I think there's opportunity in every challenge that you face,” Roehm said. “So some of the benefits of the virtual platform is that, while we do still have a capacity limit technology-wise, we also are able to have attendees from all over the state and beyond. You don't have to live in West Michigan or travel to West Michigan to participate in the festival this year, and that's a really exciting thing for us.”

So, whether you’re laughing at yourself, laughing at someone else, or laughing for no good reason at all, doctors encourage you to keep laughing, because your health depends on it.


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