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American Heart Association honoree and stroke survivor Patty Jackson, local WDAS radio-host and DJ, photographed with fans. Image provided by Caitlin Conran, Director of Communications and Marketing of the Great River Affiliate. 
American Heart Association honoree and stroke survivor Patty Jackson, local WDAS radio-host and DJ, photographed with fans. Image provided by Caitlin Conran, Director of Communications and Marketing of the Great River Affiliate. 

The Power of Laughter

Do you jaja or do you haha?

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Guffaws, howls, chuckles, giggles, cachinnations, hee-haws (not to be confused with haw-haws, of course), an uncontrollable joyous roar from the depths of our bellies... When we laugh, our eyes squint, our hands clap, our cheeks hurt with delight, and occasionally, we may release an accidental snort or two. It’s a genuinely good feeling, pulsing endorphins- our biologically produced stress and pain fighters -through our veins, often becoming contagious to benefit those around us who also caught the punch line or saw the same viral cat video.

This past month, The American Heart Association held their third annual luncheon and health conference at The Loews Philadelphia Hotel, honoring stroke survivor and thirty-four year veteran Philly radio personality Patty Jackson as their “Most Powerful Volunteer of 2017”. There, the American Heart Association’s Multicultural Initiatives platform were manifested in Philadelphia-area physicians and comedians- such as the wonderful Chanel Ali -joining forces to empower and educate people to live their “healthiest life possible”. The title of this event? The Power of Laughter.

If providing health screenings, Q&A sessions, healthy cooking demos, and exercise classes at the event is the “power” of nutritional and lifestyle knowledge, then what “power” does laughter really possess that can be beneficial to our overall wellbeing and quality of life? Making our faces flush and our bladders go weak is one source of its power, the release of feel-good hormones is another, but what else can laughter do for our bodies?

There are three categories to the benefits of laughter: physical, mental, and social, and because we excel the most when our bodies, minds, and souls are at their healthiest, maybe laughter really is the best medicine. Harvard Health Guide released a report last updated on April 2017 that indicated how laughter: “adds joy and zest to life, releases anxiety and tension, relieves stress, improves mood, strengthens resilience and relationships, releases inhibitions, expresses true feelings, enhances teamwork, defuses conflict, boosts immunity, relaxes your muscles, and protects your heart.”

Laughter’s role in preventing heart disease is especially paramount for Hispanic/Latino and African American communities, who have historically shown the highest rates for chronic disease. Of course, laughter isn’t the only way to ensure one's cardiac vigor is at is prime, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to do so as much as possible when your community reports having the most difficulty accessing fruits and vegetables in their neighborhoods or when your community statistically has the highest percentage of hypertension and diabetes. Unfortunately, your zip code and your race are some of the most reliable variables to measure life expectancy and health risks; people who are non-White and impoverished suffer the most in terms of wellness and fitness.

The actual physical, mental, and emotional need that our bodies have for laughter could be why two phenomena have emerged in pop culture: the rise of “Black Twitter” and the rise of Latina comedians and Latinx comedy on Remezcla, We Are Mitú, Buzzfeed, and independent channels on Youtube or Instagram. The “Golden Age of Television”- which I subjectively believe began with the psyche-screwy writing of The Sopranos in 1999 -has also brought with it the emergence of outrageously outlandish comedies that are diversely casted and uniquely multicultural, often focusing on the droll or amusing aspects of a certain ethnic or racial experience, such as Chewing Gum, Black-ish, Fresh Off The Boat, Jane the Virgin, Master of None, Bordertown, and Insecure.

Nevertheless, laughter cannot work alone! Though you may feel the burn in your abdomen after a hardcore session of hysterics, it doesn’t quite have the same effect as quitting smoking, eating nutritionally, or aerobic exercise might. For more tips on how to ensure the quality of your health and general balance of mind, body, and soul wellness in your life is at its pinnacle, check out The American Heart Association’s sub-page on Healthy Living on their website.

“[Humanity] has unquestionably one really effective weapon- laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution- these can lift at a colossal humbug -push it a little -weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” - Mark Twain

 
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