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This Just In - Laughter IS The Best Medicine
13th October 2021 • The Science of Self • Peter Hollins
00:00:00 00:11:03

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So far, we’ve looked at romantic relationships and sex, connections with family and community, and the value of taking it easy and laughing at it all once in a while. All of these things can add to our social health and well-being, making us feel like we’re a part of the world, which in turn lowers stress and keeps our brains ticking over properly. But there’s one more way in which we can be connected to the world and to others around us, and it’s not something we’re primed to think of all that often in the modern Western world: our ancestors.

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Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.

Visit https://bit.ly/peterhollins to pick up your FREE human nature cheat sheet: 7 surprising psychology studies that will change the way you think.

For narration information visit Russell Newton at https://bit.ly/VoW-home For production information visit Newton Media Group LLC at https://bit.ly/newtonmg





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Transcripts

The adage is that “laughter is the best medicine.” Naturally, researchers have tried to test this idea empirically and have unsurprisingly found that a good sense of humor does in fact bode well for cognitive health, especially in older people. The study showed that participants who laughed at a funny video for twenty minutes performed better on memory tests than those who didn’t watch one—not to mention the drop in cortisol levels.

Laughing reduces your blood pressure, drops your cortisol, boosts your mood and gives your brain a pleasurable dopamine kick. Laughter actively helps you manage the daily stressors of life, and can even improve your immune system, not to mention it can strengthen your social connections if done with others. This is one brain-care tip you can implement in your daily life easily, today. Book a comedy night (even better, go with friends!) or watch silly videos on YouTube.

Consciously decide not to take life so seriously. Humor and creativity have a lot in common. The next time something unfortunate happens, can you change perspective and see the funny side of it? The ability to laugh at life—or yourself!— can make one incredibly resilient in the face of daily adversity or uncertainty. Be a little absurd, a little self-deprecating. Remind yourself that life is not supposed to be a painful slog—enjoy yourself. Whether this is ridiculous pranks on friends, cheesy sitcoms that always make you chuckle, or playing games with your kids, a little laughing and lightheartedness may indeed be the best medicine.

So far, we’ve looked at romantic relationships and sex, connections with family and community, and the value of taking it easy and laughing at it all once in a while. All of these things can add to our social health and well-being, making us feel like we’re a part of the world, which in turn lowers stress and keeps our brains ticking over properly. But there’s one more way in which we can be connected to the world and to others around us, and it’s not something we’re primed to think of all that often in the modern Western world: our ancestors.

Look Backwards for a Better Future

It’s probably true to say that many of us struggle in modern life to find sources of deeper meaning, a feeling of purposefulness and the sense that we are part of something greater than ourselves. With so much focus on the future, and all the goals and improvements we hope to find there, the past can be so easily forgotten.

A consequence of this is a kind of rootlessness, a lack of feeling as if one “comes from” anywhere. With globalization and people migrating internationally at record rates, many people have lost their anchoring in the traditions of their native lands, their families, and the history of those who came before them. And sadly, this can result in feeling empty and adrift in the world, not to mention utterly alone.

Far from being a relic of the past, being concerned with one’s ancestry is as popular as ever, possibly explaining the rise of programs about celebrities unlocking their secret histories or DNA sequencing kits offering to tell you where your ancestors came from in millennia gone by.

No matter how abstract, sterilized and machine-filled our worlds have become, we all long to know who we are, where we came from and where we’re going. Many cultural anthropologists point to a big hole where our shared cultural traditions might have been in previous generations—a hole we may now fill with less-satisfying pop culture myth and obsession with celebrity.

The truth is that a huge part of our identity and sense of being comes from our cultural heritage. Perhaps more so for Western, individualistic societies than others, we labor to build our own “personal brands,” create wealth, and develop our identities in the things we consume. But rarely does our engagement go beyond ourselves or our immediate social group. How could we understand who we are, though, unless we understand the people who came before us? The culture that created us? The very people whose genes we now carry with us? With the rise of the ever more nuanced and complex field of epigenetics, we can begin to comprehend how our ancestors’ experiences can literally have been written into their DNA, and passed on to subsequent generations. The unspeakable feeling you get from looking at an old family picture of someone who looks incredibly similar to you is a humbling experience. It tells us that people much like us came before, and lived and learnt and loved, and overcame, and passed away, perhaps long before our grandparents were even born.

Just beginning to contemplate some of these ideas can add a gravity and importance to life that goes beyond the petty day-to-day troubles that distract us.

Interestingly,:

Though it’s an interesting effect, as always caution should be used when interpreting it. The results do, however, hint that our brains simply function better when we have a strong sense of who we are, not just on a personal level, but on a social and historical one. Feeling yourself a part of a bigger whole is grounding, and, as this research shows, may go a long way to instilling feelings of confidence, self-identity and belonging. It’s possible that this effect may hold for any activity that actively gets us to appreciate and internalize a sense that we are a valued part of a greater whole. Gain yourself some immediate perspective and sense of presence, where before you might have been occupied or bothered by things that distracted you from your main goals. In essence, this might be an instant focus booster.

If this is a phenomenon you’d like to experiment with yourself, why not start by doing the same exercise: think about your ancestors for a moment and try to truly put yourself in their shoes, imagine their lives and even, if you’re feeling creative, talk directly to them. This is a practice employed almost universally by cultures, but it’s admittedly more common in some than others.

Think for a moment about your life in the grand scheme of things. About all the events that occurred to bring you, just as you are right now in all your uniqueness, into being.

Think about how much you have in common with your “tribe,” despite how different you are. Think about your actions in the chain of events, and how you might continue your family’s legacy, even if you don’t literally know their names or their stories. Imagine that you are just one petal on an unfolding bud on the tree of life, and imagine all the roots that go back in time, long before you were born.

Though you may get a temporary boost in cognitive ability, the benefits of this kind of contemplation go so much deeper. Rather than merely increasing your brain power, you may wind up bolstering your sense of self, and feeling more grounded and solid in life not as a free-floating individual, but a related being, someone with a past, with a family, a group and a shared story—even if parts of it are forgotten. It’s like a social life, but projected into the distant past.

Try to find subtle ways to respect and acknowledge where you’ve come from. Chat to the elders in your social network and show an interest in what happened before you arrived on this earth. If you can and would find it interesting, dig deeper and consider looking into your heritage more directly, and fill in any gaps in the family tree. Ask older people to tell you about the past—this ordinarily fills people with dread, but this time, really listen. Really let it sink in that just as those people are only stories now, so too will you be a story one day. Paradoxically, the feeling of humbleness that comes with this realization can be incredibly freeing and encouraging.