Gray may be the new black this fall in the fashion world, but in the world of mental health, I say laughter therapy could be the new Prozac. Unfortunately, depression is a growing epidemic in our country. I could quote all kinds of statistics to support this statement, but that would be, well…depressing. If you are in a point-proving state of mind, there is plenty of research at your fingertips. I say skip the internet search for depression stats and just look around you for real time proof. I’m sure you can think of someone close to you who battles the blues; maybe that someone is you.

Depression steals our zest for living and can be physically, mentally, and spiritually debilitating. While feeling hopeless is no laughing matter, I believe laughter can actually create feelings of hopefulness and bolster mood. Here is some research worth noting; laughter releases endorphins, otherwise known as the feel-good chemicals in the brain. Endorphins have been linked to the relief of physical pain. Laughter has also been connected to the reduction of stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine. Our immune systems can even be strengthened by grinning and giggling, due to our T-cells being enhanced, which are our antibody-producing cells. Laughter is powerful medicine!

When is the last time you laughed until you cried? When is the last time you laughed at all?

I had a client who had been battling depression for years. During one of our sessions, I asked her when the last time was she had laughed. She stared at me blankly; a long, silent pause followed.  Eyes brimming with tears, she sighed, “I can’t even remember the last time I laughed, it’s been so long. I don’t even know if I remember how.” I laid my notepad on the desk; “I can help with that.” Enter the screaming goats video. Three minutes later, both my client and I were doubled over in my office, the sound of our laughter echoing off the walls. I think I even let my guard down and snorted once. Tears streaming down my client’s cheeks, she sighed, “wow, I can’t believe how good that felt; almost like a weight was lifted off my chest. I think I need to laugh more often.”

Yes, she did. We all do. I can’t help but wonder if laughter is an under-used resource in our lives. Maybe if we laughed more, we would feel less depressed and anxious. Perhaps fewer people would struggle with addictions. I wonder. Even the Bible talks about the healing power of laughter: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22, NIV)  My interpretation is not backed by years of studying theology, but I’d say it sounds like laughter trumps Prozac!

I’m certainly not suggesting that laughter is a cure-all for depression, but I am suggesting that laughter could help alleviate depressed mood and anxiety. Even a little. And when it comes to depression, a little bit less depressed is a big shift for someone who battles the darkness. It opens a window in that murky room of the soul where light and life can enter in. Hope.

Hope whispers, Laugh. It’s good for your soul.

So, what do you say? Would you be willing to try an experiment with me? It’s simple: every day, for a week, spend at least five minutes engaging in something that makes you laugh, and see if, at the end of the week, your mood has improved. Sometimes it takes a friend to help you find your funny bone. (A special thank you to my friend Devan, who first introduced me to the screaming goats video when I was having a stressful day – I laugh often because you showed me how to access silly, senseless laughter on YouTube!) Whether it’s a comic strip, a joke book, a friend’s humor, a comedy on Netflix, or old reruns of Frasier, whatever makes you grin, giggle, or guffaw will do. Here are two of my favorite YouTube selections to get you started:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpccpglnNf0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L49VXZwfup8

Are you laughing? I hope so! Think of all the money saved on counseling if laughter therapy works – now that’s something to smile about!

What makes you laugh? Do share – you could be responsible for someone else’s joy!