Friday, July 28, 2006

What makes you feel good makes you healthy

"Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine."
- Lord Byron, English poet (1788–1824)

This message is not one grounded in attributable fact, but one based on reason. Therefore I make no effort to provide support for any health claims made here. Call it opinion, if you like. If this matters to you, click away now.

Some characteristics about us humans, such as the fact that we can't sneeze and keep our eyes open at the same time, can't be easily explained, but are fact nevertheless. The fact that we can't laugh and worry at the same time is one of those strange characteristics.

Long after Byron's time, medical science showed that endorphins are released in our brains when we laugh. Endorphins are those "feel good" neurochemicals that we just can't help loving.

Addicts get a shot of endorphins when they indulge in their addiction of choice. Endorphins get released when we experience sexual pleasure. The "runner's high" and other pleasureful feelings experienced by those who exert themselves strongly involve a release of endorphins.

Romantic love is the longest period in which the brain frequently releases endorphins. This explains why those who are "in love with love" want it to continue, just as an addict wants more. The brain treats romance the way it treats sexual climax or a recreational drug.

Laughing causes our brain to release endorphins. Since the period is relatively brief, scientists say that we should try to make our laugh periods belly laughs because they cause the greatest release of endorphins and that we should try to have belly laughs several times each day.

It's the infectiousness of belly laughing that causes the producers of TV sitcoms to add laugh tracks to otherwise mediocre comedies. One good sitcom or one good standup comedy program per day should do us a great deal of good. Too bad they are so rare.

Endorphins do more than just give us a temporary feel-good feeling. Anything that makes us feel good helps to stabilize the immune system. During these periods our immune system is not needed (so our brain thinks) so it rebuilds itself from any depletion (such as of white blood cells) from the recent past.

Watching children at play can do that for many people. They can't help smiling while they watch children they don't even know. Watching a mother breast-feed her baby produces a similar endorphin bath for some people. The mother herself experiences an endorphin rush when her baby is feeding. It's all natural.

Doing good for others or helping others directly produces milder forms of endorphin release, but over longer periods of time. This can be very healthy for the immune system.

If you think of the human body as a perfect or nearly perfect life system designed by a higher power, it would be reasonable to conclude that the designer intended that we indulge ourselves in these pleasurable experiences on a regular basis. They improve our health.

Anything that improves our health and well-being should be encouraged because it makes the community stronger, so it is better prepared to cope with tragedy when it comes.

Some people don't want us to experience anything pleasurable. We are doping ourselves, they say. We might want to question the motives and the wisdom of such people. Especially because they claim that they speak for God.

We also might be well advised to avoid confrontations with them because these work against the well-being discussed here. Primarily because they cause the release of epinephrin (aka Adrenaline) which is good in fight or flight situations, but unhealthy if we get dosed with it often or continuously. Long term, epinephrin works against our health.

Give someone a smile to improve their day. Have a good laugh to improve your own. Just thinking good thoughts will benefit your health because they make you feel good.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to spread all the good words.
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