One day last week Jean was telling me how excited she was to go see her family at Thanksgiving. She headed to the bedroom and said, “I need to go and crack my toes.” I’m laughing and ask her, why do you need to crack your toes? She yells from the bedroom. “Hello, clean your ears, I need to pack my clothes.” Hahaha! We both laughed and laughed.

Laughter is good medicine, eh? As Aboriginal people, we use laughter a lot. Everyone has a story about the silly things we did at one time or another. Despite the hardships and the stories of trauma that Aboriginal or Indigenous people have gone through, there is one constant — our sense of humour. It’s what gets us through tough times.

In fact, laughter is good medicine to combat stress, pain, and conflict. It quickly brings your mind and body into balance. Helpguide.org says “Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert. It also helps you to release anger and be more forgiving.”

No wonder! Traditionally Dene people are storytellers and we can find humour in almost every situation. I used to listen to my parents tell stories with our relatives and it never failed; no matter what, a story always ended with a burst of laughter. Some of us now share those funny stories.

Laughter helps to heal us, and it’s an important component of connecting with people. If you’re a non-Aboriginal person and a Dene person teases you, don’t think he’s picking on you. It’s probably because he likes you or feels comfortable with you and wants to connect. We tease because it’s our way of saying, “You’re cool, I want to get to know you better.”

In our workshops, Jean and I use laughter a lot. In our line of work, we need to find ways to release the heaviness of the stories we hear. Laughter is a great stress reliever and Jean and I are always teasing each other and finding humour in the smallest things.

Here are some of the things I do to make her laugh — dance spontaneously and tease her about almost anything, especially if she makes a mistake when telling me a story. I embellish a story about what I did earlier in the day. We do crosswords together and we make up words that could be possible answers. We even had many crazy moments at our wedding that the photographer captured.

Here are some benefits of laughing according to helpguide.org. First of all, a good, hearty laugh releases physical tension and stress, while leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes.

Laughter also reduces stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, which helps us to avoid getting sick. Laughter also releases endorphins, which are our natural feel-good chemicals that help us attain an overall sense of wellbeing and even briefly relieves pain.

And get this, laughter improves blood vessel function and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack. And, while it can’t beat going to the gym, one study found that you could lose three or four pounds in a year by laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day, which burns around 40 calories a day. Eschia!

Looking at the funny side of things can put problems into perspective and help you to resolve conflicts without lingering resentments. And laughter may even help you live longer. A Norwegian study found that people with a strong sense of humor lived longer than folks who didn’t laugh as much. Well yaaaaaaaa!

Turning to mental health, laughter adds joy and zest to life, eases anxiety and tension, relieves stress, improves mood, and strengthens resilience.

So remember that while life is sometimes stressful, a good burst of laughter can go a long way to helping you through the day. And the thing is, this good medicine is free, it’s simple to use, and it’s fun, fun, fun!

Roy Erasmus

Roy Erasmus Sr. Is a certified wellness counsellor who survived heart disease and a former member of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories.

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