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Why Humor is Therapeutic (PLUS 10 Clean Jokes to Heal Everyone at the Thanksgiving Table)

Want an easy and genuinely fun way to feel great and gain real health benefits? Laugh. Laugh until your belly shakes. Laugh until it hurts. Have a good laugh as often as you can.

A laugh a day may keep heart disease at bay.

We all know that stress, anger, sadness, guilt and other negative emotions can take a toll on our health. Laughter, as it turns out, has the opposite effect, and it seems the old proverb "a merry heart doeth good like a medicine," was right all along.

"We believe laughing is good for your health," said Michael Miller of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. "And we think we have evidence to show why that's the case."

A "Ha-Ha-Ha" = A Happy Heart

Miller and colleagues examined the connection between blood vessels' ability to expand (vasodilation) and laughter. If vasodilation is poor, it can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. The study involved 20 adults who watched clips of a violent movie and a humorous movie and had their vasodilation tested. They found that:

  • Blood flow was significantly reduced (by about 35 percent) in 14 of the 20 volunteers who saw the stressful film.

  • Blood flow significantly increased (by 22 percent) in 19 of the 20 volunteers after watching the funny movie.

What's more, researchers said the improvement in blood flow experienced by most all participants after laughter was equal to the improvements seen after a 15- or 30-minute workout!

"Laughter is not dissimilar from exercise," said Lee Berk, an associate professor of health promotion and education who studies laughter at Loma Linda University in California. "It's not going to cure someone from stage three cancer, but in terms of prevention it does make sense. In a sense, we have our own apothecary on our shoulders. Positive emotions such as laughter affect your biology."

How's Your Sense of Humor?

Go ahead and laugh ... it's good for you!

Another study conducted by Miller, this one of 300 people, found that people with heart disease "responded less humorously to everyday life situations." Not only did they laugh less, even when the situation was positive, but they also showed more signs of anger and hostility.

"The ability to laugh -- either naturally or as learned behavior -- may have important implications in societies such as the U.S. where heart disease remains the number one killer," says Miller. "We know that exercising, not smoking, and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list ... The recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day."

Other studies have found that laughing is not only good for your heart; it may help boost the immune system and reduce inflammation in the body, which is linked to a variety of diseases.

Now on to the Laughing

Not to dampen the mood, but most of us could use some help in this area. "Children laugh approximately 80 to 100 times per day. By the time we reach adulthood, we laugh only 5-6 times per day. You only need to watch children to appreciate the relationship between humor and enjoying life. Children will laugh at anything! If you ask them, "what's so funny," they may say something like, "he looked at me!" says Barbara Bartlein, R.N., M.S.W., a motivational speaker and consultant.

Adults, on the other hand, feel they need a reason to laugh before doing so. Here, then, are 10 of them to get you started in honor of the upcoming holiday.

1. If the Pilgrims were alive today, what would they be most famous for?

Their AGE

2. A turkey farmer was always experimenting with breeding to perfect a better turkey. His family was fond of the leg portion for dinner and there were never enough legs for everyone. After many frustrating attempts, the farmer was relating the results of his efforts to his friends at the general store get-together.

"Well, I finally did it! I bred a turkey that has six legs!"

They all asked the farmer how it tasted.

"I don't know," said the farmer. "I never could catch the darn thing!"

3. What sound does a space turkey make?

Hubble, hubble, hubble.

4. A woman was picking through the frozen turkeys at the grocery store, but couldn't find one big enough for her family. She asked the stock boy, "Do these turkeys get any bigger?" What did the stock boy say?

No, Ma'am. They're already dead.

5. Five Ways to Liven up Thanksgiving Dinner

Try to get a laugh out of your family this Thanksgiving with a few of these timely jokes.

  1. Load your plate up high, then take it to the kitchen, toss it all in the blender, and take your "shake" back to the table. Announce that it's the new Thanksgiving Weight Loss Shake.

  2. When everyone goes around to say what they are thankful for, say, "I'm thankful I didn't get caught," and refuse to say anything more.

  3. Bring along old recorded football games, pop them in the VCR when Dad's not looking. Make sure it is set to the last two minutes of the game. When he comes into the room, turn off the VCR and turn on the regular TV.

  4. Bring a date that only talks about the tragic and abusive conditions known to exist at turkey farms.

  5. During mid-meal turn to mom and say, "See mom, I told you they wouldn't notice that the turkey was past expiration date. You were worried for nothing."

6. Top 10 Signs You've Eaten Too Much at Thanksgiving Dinner
(From David Letterman's Top 10 Lists)

  1. Hundreds of volunteers have started to stack sandbags around you.

  2. Doctor tells you your weight would be perfect for a man 17 feet tall.

  3. You are responsible for a slight but measurable shift in the earth's axis.

  4. Right this minute you're laughing up pie on the carpet.

  5. You decide to take a little nap and wake up in mid-July.

  6. World's fattest man sends you a telegram, warning you to "back off!"

  7. CBS tells you to lose weight or else.

  8. Getting off your couch requires help from the fire department.

  9. Every escalator you step on immediately grinds to a halt.

  10. You're sweatin' gravy.

7. Thanksgiving in the UK

A few years ago, an American and a British journalist were discussing Thanksgiving on a British radio program. The American asked if Thanksgiving was celebrated in the UK.

"Yes," the British journalist replied, "but we celebrate it on the 6th of September."

"Why then?"

"That's when you chaps left."

8. Why did the Pilgrims want to sail to America in the spring?

Because April showers bring Mayflowers.

9. What is your favorite thing to make for Thanksgiving dinner?


10. Twas the Night of Thanksgiving

Twas the night of Thanksgiving, but I just couldn't sleep.
I tried counting backwards, I tried counting sheep
The leftovers beckoned -- the dark meat and white,
But I fought the temptation with all of my might.

Tossing and turning with anticipation ...
The thought of a snack became infatuation ...
So I raced to the kitchen, flung open the door,
And gazed at the fridge full of goodies galore.
I gobbled up turkey and buttered potatoes,
Pickles and carrots, beans and tomatoes.

I felt myself swelling so plump and so round,
Till all of a sudden, I rose off the ground!

I crashed through the ceiling, floating into the sky ...
With a mouthful of pudding and a handful of pie,
But I managed to yell as I soared past the trees ...

Happy eating to all ... pass the cranberries, please!

Recommended Reading

Your Play-by-Play on the Nutritional Values (or Lack Thereof) of Every Item on a Typical Thanksgiving Table

The Remarkable Antioxidant Power of Cranberries -- and Three No-Cost Cranberry Recipes


Washington Post: Laughter's Link to Health may be in the Blood

University of Maryland Medical Center: Laughter is the 'Best Medicine' for Your Heart

Laughing Your Way to Good Health

Basic Jokes: Clean Jokes for a Dirty World

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