My material grandmother used to warn her daughter that by laughing so much her teeth might freeze — no easy feat in the tropical country like Costa Rica. Happily the threat didn’t dissuade my mother who loves to laugh to this day. As she’s passed her 100 birthday, it’s safe to say a chuckle has done her health and her teeth no harm. I like to think a little of her attitude has rubbed off on me. Recently, a woman at the retirement center remarked in passing, “You have the most unusual laugh. It carries all over the ground floor.” I laughed again, assuming that was a good thing.
Believe it or not, women retain their humor longer than men. As men grow older, they tend to grow serious. (“Laugh Lots, Live Longer,” by Tori Rodriguez, Scientific American Mind, Sept/Oct, 2016, pg. 17.) As yet, there is no explanation for this difference between the sexes, but I’m guessing that as men lose their sense of authority, their spirits decline. Women, who’ve lacked authority throughout human history, probably use humor as a coping mechanism.
Whatever the reason, a woman’s ability to laugh pays off in longevity. Women with “high scores in humor’s cognitive component were associated with 48 percent less risk of death from all causes.” (Ibid pg. 17). Laughter tends to combat the presence of stress hormones, like cortisol, that suppress the immune system. My mother seems to know this instinctively. At the sight of a doctor, she breaks into a comedy routine worthy of Phyllis Diller. Her medical team tells me she’s such “such a delight.” I know she scared and coping.
While women receive a general health benefit from laughter, men who retain their humor receive a benefit, too. Studies show that those with high humor scores are 74 percent more likely to fight off infections than those with lower scores. Beneficial or not, laughter is fun. A day without laughter is a day wasted. That’s what Charlie Chaplain believed and he lived to be 88.
(The blog first apeared 3/18/2016)