Food for the Soul

If you had asked me on Friday afternoon what my plans were for the evening, I would have grumbled that I have every intention of staying home to catch up on some TiVo and then go to bed early. It had been a long week with moments of tension at work and I was entirely worn out. When I arrived home, takeout in hand, I was greeted by one of my housemates chirping about how he had an open day on Saturday (a rare treat for him) and intended to enjoy a carefree evening. At the time, I gave a brief smile and nod, not fully aware of the events that were about to unfold.

Within the hour, my other housemate arrived home and the two boys quickly agreed that takeout from the local Mexican dive would be a great idea as would some White Russians in honor of watching The Big Lebowski. One took on the task of tending bar and setting up the movie while the other came home with an entire pie tin full of guacamole, confident that this might be light for the level of supposed starvation the boys were experiencing at the time. To further add to the evening's antics, all of the friends who soon arrived were apparently musically-inclined and readily picked up guitars stationed by the dining table. Then my housemate sat down at his keyboard to play, what was later deemed, a impromptu rock opera.

I couldn't help but smile and laugh at the joy in the room; it was palpable. Laughter, music and the smell of carne asada had enveloped the room. I laughed throughout the night, while feeling my stress and gloom melt away. I slept that night for nearly nine hours and woke up feeling the most refreshed I had been in weeks.

As we continue our series on health and well-being, I want to transition from the more expected topics of healthy eating habits and exercise (although both are still very important) to something that we might not place on our "To Do" list on a regular basis. Laughter can have a powerful physical and psychological effect on our body. Scientific research has shown that the fun physical act releases endorphins, which may enhance our mood. An article from the September 2011 edition of The New York Times even goes so far as to discuss a study performed by a psychologist at Oxford that proves, through a series of field studies, humans can increase their pain tolerance and resiliency after experiencing laughter just before the onset of pain or injury.

Based on the level of endorphins that helped me ease into that sound sleep on Friday night, I would immediately agree with this Oxford doctor. So now, as I continue to focus on having a healthier lifestyle leading into the summer season, I absolutely encourage the simple act of laughing more often. It's a productive and healthy habit. And who knows, perhaps if you achieve that deep belly laugh, you'll give yourself a little abdominal workout in the process!

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