Laughter: The Best Medicine

Craig DeSilva
August 31, 2015

Belly laughs erupted at Diamond Head Theatre this weekend at the popular Gridiron. The biennial show, produced by the Hawaii Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), pokes fun at news events and newsmakers. It played to sold-out crowds August 26 – 29, and that’s a good thing. According to experts, laughter is good for your health and well-being.

“Laughter and happiness is contagious and connects people together,” said Lisa Mundon, a healthy lifestyle coach at Healthways Hawaii. “It’s hard not to laugh when others around you are laughing. It’s good to attend plays, concerts, comedy shows, or movies that make you feel good.”

Aside from the laughs, the show is written, produced, and performed by Hawaii’s media and public relations community for a good cause. The proceeds fund journalism and public relations internships for local college students. This year’s show, “On Time and On Budget,” skewered (all in fun, of course) politicians like Governor Ige, U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and President Obama. The show also targeted Oahu’s traffic woes and plastic bag ban. The audience applauded scenes filled with witty lines combined with highly produced and choreographed song and dance numbers.

There’s a lot of bad news these days to make us feel down. But the Gridiron reminds us not to take things too seriously. Mundon points to the Mayo Clinic, which says laughter is good for your long-term and short-term physical and mental health by helping to:
•    Stimulate your heart and lungs
•    Increase your oxygen intake
•    Increase endorphins that make you feel better and happier
•    Relieve stress and pain
•    Soothe tense muscles to lessen symptoms of stress
•    Improve your mood and lessen depression or anxiety
•    Improve your immune system

“Positive thoughts release molecules in the brain that help fight stress and potentially more serious illness,” said Mundon.

In addition to bringing joy to the audience, the Gridiron stimulates creativity for the performers. “It’s a rush when you hear an audience burst out in laughter,” said freelance writer Catherine Toth of The Cat Dish. “There’s no greater pleasure than being around people who are laughing. Knowing that they’re having a great time makes me happy.”

Toth (second from left looking up) said the show is a good creative outlet. “It’s fun to sing and dance,” she said. “We laugh a lot. The whole point is to have fun. After meeting deadlines and working with editors all day, it’s a good stress relief. And it’s good comradery for me because I work at home. So it’s good to reconnect with my media colleagues.”

According to Barbara Frederickson, Ph.D., in Psychology Today, creativity is linked to:
•    Better job satisfaction
•    Higher-quality leisure time
•    More positive emotions
•    Greater overall well-being and happiness

“Meaningful activities contribute to a sense of greater purpose, which can lead to better overall well-being,” said Mundon. “We become more interested and engaged in people and activities.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter Gordon Pang is known for asking politicians hard-hitting questions at Honolulu City Hall. But during the Gridiron, the politicians get to see him in a different role.  “It’s good for people to know I'm human, too,” said Pang. “As much as we skewer the newsmakers in Gridiron, it’s the only time they get to see us completely exposed and out there.”

Pang (playing Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi) said performing is “like yoga, working out at the gym, or going into the water for a swim or snorkel.  It’s soothing to do something physical and completely different and flex different muscles.”

Former news anchor Olena Heu of Olena Heu Communications loves performing. “My life is based on doing things that make me happy and encouraging others to share their happiness with others,” she said.

The former Miss Hawaii has performed on stage since she was a child. “Quality of life is so important to me now. I have two friends with cancer. It’s even more important now to be positive, encouraging, and have a good attitude,” she added.

Hawaii News Now reporter and weather anchor Ben Gutierrez has a theater background, but his busy work schedule doesn’t allow him time to perform much. So he looks forward to being in Gridiron. “It’s a cool feeling onstage to get instant feedback,” he says. “If something works and the audience responds, it becomes a shared experience.”


Ben Gutierrez (far right) sings on stage with Jodi Leong (left) and Gordon Pang (middle).

So go ahead and see a live show at a theatre near you. And if you missed this year’s Gridiron, like they say in the show, “Relax, never fear. They’ll get you right here at the next Gridiron.”

Photos courtesy of Stirling Morita.

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