Don’t Worry, Be Happy

PHOTO: Patch Adams, M.D.

Many long years ago when I was a Neurosurgical Assistant at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, CA I was privileged to attend a conference which focused on laughter and play. And of course that meant a reminder to start each day with a smile which was often challenging as we consistently dealt with life threatening diagnoses.

I remember coming back from that conference, which happened to take place onboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, with the awareness of how serious everyone was most all the time. Not just at the Clinic, but in everyday life!

I was well aware of the work that now 75-year-old Patch Adams, M.D. with his red clown nose has done, and is still doing, who’s message for health care providers has been “lighten the mood and you will lighten the struggle”. And Norman Cousins (Cancer Laughter Cure). had done on laughter and the simple act of smiling to raise endorphin levels, decrease pain, and augment healing even from a cancer diagnosis he was given.

Yet, it appeared that I needed a reminder to add it to the daily dose of patient care upon my return, in addition to the Hug Therapist button I wore on my lab coat every day. After five days of wearing a clown nose, learning how to juggle with marshmallows, witnessing comedians come up with material to make us smile and laugh, and even taking a class on “Laughter and Play in the Death & Dying Process” I was well armed to come back and “lighten things up”.

Coming from a community where smiling, humor and laughter was valued and practiced every single day of the conference to the impact of seriousness at the Clinic and the outside world was a tad challenging. It took some time to integrate.

Joke books were placed in exam rooms for patient reading material and I was smiling more as I cared for patients and connected with staff . Did it make a difference? I will let you create a story about what happened. (besides the joke books disappearing from the exam rooms!)

And it all begins with a smile. A simple smile given and received.

Below are 5 reasons to smile taken from a post entitled “Smile. Laugh. Be Joyful” on Wonderfully Human by Diana Turner-Forte:

“There are many reasons to smile, but I’ll just focus on five benefits for this post.

  1. Ripple Effect: Have you ever noticed how contagious smiling can be? You walk into a room where people are talking their traumas and then someone shows up with a a baby picture and the entire conversation shifts to a higher frequency. The happy story pivots everything to a different level. Its as if the whole room brightens. It turns out that the expression of the face with the edges of the lips turned upward releases little hormones in the brain that make you happy.
  2. Affects Blood Pressure: We all know that stress raises blood pressure. Apparently smiling, lowers blood pressure by promoting healthy circulation and the uptake of breath from a good laugh “increases oxygen and supports heart health.”
  3. Eases Pain: Another insight is that smiling and laughter reduce pain, both physical and emotional. The way that happens is that relaxing those facial muscles by smiling releases endorphins which are receptors in the brain that takes your mind off what is ailing you, temporarily. And sometimes that is just enough to get you through a rough spot. Have you heard of Dr. Patch Adams, an American physician who inspired others running around with a red circle on his nose? Here’s one of his insights on the power of laughter, “People crave laughter as if it were an amino acid.” Let’s face it you can’t frown and smile at the same time. Go ahead, try it!
  4. Immune Booster: While I don’t understand all the data validating that laughing and smiling supports the immune system, it is worth noting that studies show that “a combination of smiling, laughing, and positive thoughts trigger the brain to release neuroreceptors that fight off illness.” That in itself would be enough to keep me smiling for awhile.
  5. Facilitates Healthy Relationships: This benefit may be the most important as we need others to grow and live together harmoniously. This refers back to the first benefit that smiling people are contagious and attract others just like them. Who doesn’t want to be around happy people, not that we can maintain that state all the time, but life is certainly more enjoyable around folks who are light-hearted and cheerful.”

Diana adds:

“And besides, when you smile you are beautiful. If you are not excited about wanting to smile every chance you get, I’ve added this clip by Bobby McFerrin. Snap your fingers, pat your legs, clap your hands, get up and dance, and SMILE!”

Bet you can’t keep from smiling and moving!! Maybe even acting silly…..NOW how do you feel?

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Gaye Abbott, Natural Passages Consulting, 1/30/22. Please feel free to share this post and link to WildlyFreeElder

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