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Susan Ann Darley: Up with Creativity, Down with Blood Pressure

Laughter has proven to be one of life's best pick-me-ups

As a child, when Albert Einstein was introduced to his newborn sister, he supposedly asked, “Where are the wheels?”

Amusing? Yes. Are you smiling? Good. If you’re laughing that’s great because laughter can relieve tension, reduce burnout, improve morale, foster cooperation and enhance creativity. In fact, a study recently presented to the American Heart Association reports that laughter can lower blood pressure.

Japanese researchers found that people who took part in bimonthly group sessions built around music or laughter lowered their systolic blood pressure (the top number in the reading) by an average of five to six points after three months.

“Laughter is an inner treadmill that breaks negativity instantly by releasing endorphins and reducing stress,” stress-management expert Debbie Mandel said. “A funny face or a bit of silliness at work reminds us not to take ourselves so seriously. When we are more at ease, we can better solve problems.”

I know that humor and laughter saved my life as my mom hit her late 80s. Old age and my mom didn’t exactly get along. Her mantra for the last five years of her life was, “I’m dying.” I turned to her one day and said, “Mom, everybody is dying.” She carefully thought about it, admitted I was right and began to laugh. But it didn’t curtail the mantra.

I would take her to the store, pick up a large bottle of shampoo and she would panic. “Don’t get that size — I won’t outlive it.” I’d calmly point out, “But mom, you’ve already outlived five bottles.”

Laughter is grace lifting us above the drama. It also improves creativity.

Alice Isen, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, and her colleagues conducted a study with college students to determine how laughter affects creativity.

The students were asked to solve a problem. Each one was given a box of matches, a box of tacks and a candle. The goal was to affix the candle to a corkboard so that when the candle was lit, the wax wouldn’t drip onto it.

Before they set out to solve the problem, the students were divided into two groups. One group watched funny TV bloopers and the other group watched a math film. The results showed that 75 percent of the students watching bloopers solved the problem correctly, while only 20 percent of the students who watched the math film were able to do it.

Who doesn’t feel relaxed after a good dose of laughter? Did you know that when you laugh you gulp in large amounts of air, which creates a rich, highly oxygenated flow of blood? Ahh … refreshing. Laughter frees us. It reduces tensions, prejudices, one-way attitudes. It promotes connection, engagement, creativity. It’s highly contagious and definitely something worth catching.

Mom and I went to a funeral (no, not hers). We were sitting in the front pew within eyeshot of the priest. Mom got the giggles. I caught them. She handed me an embroidered handkerchief to cry into. Her shoulders stopped, mine started, and then it would reverse. We were the chief mourners. Years later, the memory would send us howling once again.

Irreverent? Yes, but quite unintentionally. I’m not suggesting that you check out the obituary column but, just for today, find a way to allow the gift of laughter into your life. It might not save the world, but it will definitely make yours better.

Susan Ann Darley is a creativity coach, arts writer and author. Through coaching and writing, she motivates people to use their talents and market their creative projects. For more information, click here, e-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 805.845.3036.

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