Laughter is the best medicine

Hakim Hayat

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Norizuratul Ain binti Mohd Yusuf, 37, an expatriate from the Philippines working at a textile retail chain in Brunei Darussalam for over 15 years, has not seen her family back home for almost a year.

Since setting her foot in the sultanate that she calls her second home, she said she usually takes at least two weeks break from work every year to reunite with her family in the Philippines. However, with the COVID-19 cases still rising in some countries, triggering uncertainties across the globe and international travel restrictions in most nations, she has no choice but to stay and make ends meet.

“I miss my family so much and I do feel down sometimes. There’s nothing much I can do right now but to continue working,” she said, adding that virtual calls with her family keeps her motivated at work.

Noticing the pandemic may have caused staff, especially foreign workers, to be demotivated at work, Galleria YMRM, where Norizuratul is employed has come up with a “remedy” these past few months to keep their staff staying on course – by laughing.

Although the idea may seem unconventional at first, Galleria YMRM, which employs over 50 staff at its stores all over Brunei starts every working day with a group huddle and at least five minutes of laughter therapy. And it is working well, YMRM Group founder Ramesh Bhawnani told the Bulletin recently.

After all, this is why there is a saying, “Laughter is the best medicine”, because it is scientifically proven that it draws people together in ways that trigger healthy physical and emotional changes in the body.

“Amid the stressful environment today – be it the pandemic, the business climate and also restrictions – our workers are also feeling the brunt, but as a company that values staff contribution, they are a part of our big family,” Ramesh said, while sharing the idea behind the morning laughter therapy initiative he has spearheaded.

YMRM Group founder Ramesh Bhawnani and staff members during a morning huddle and a brief laughing therapy to boost their mood. PHOTO: HAKIM HAYAT

He said he wants his team members to start the day happy and stress-free by telling jokes or laughing, and he also encourages staff to share their stories and problems during the daily morning huddles.

He said science also proves that laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and protects you from the damaging effects of stress.

“Laughing is contagious and it is a form of therapy for many. I think it is working because when our team is in a good mood so are our customers,” he added.

One of the earlier studies on the benefits of laughter was from Dr Lee Berk of Loma University Medical Centre, California in the United States (US), who has been conducting laughter therapy research since the late 1970s.

In 1989, Berk studied the effects of laughter in 10 healthy males. Five experimental subjects watched an hour-long comedy while five control subjects did not.

Blood samples taken from the 10 subjects revealed that cortisol (the hormone our body releases when under stress) in the experimental subjects had decreased more rapidly in comparison to the control group.

Berk’s research has also shown that the level of natural killer cells (a type of immune cell that attacks virus and tumour cells) increased through laughter. These same cells are suppressed if the body suffers consistent long-term stress.

The therapeutic effects of laughter have been clinically studied since the 70s, but Dr Madan Kataria – who developed laughter yoga in Mumbai, India – is credited with bringing laughter therapy into the mainstream. Kataria set up the first laughter club in 1995. There are now over 5,000 laughter clubs worldwide.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have also calculated that just 20 seconds of laughter could be as good for the lungs as three minutes spent on a rowing machine.

Ramesh said the positive changes since the introduction of the initiative has been phenomenal with positive energy being spread among their team members and customers.

One of the long-serving staff at the company, Mohd Ansari, 48, an Indian national, who leads the morning huddles daily at the Galleria YMRM Tungku Link branch said the initiative has boosted positivity of their working environment.

“Everyday, our bosses start the day with smiles and laughter and this gives a mood booster and motivation for all of us throughout the day,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ramesh said although the practice may seem unheard of in Brunei, he said it is widespread in many companies and retail stores all over the world. He hopes that the initiative will spread to others, so they can ensure their team members’ well-being.

“We need to make them smile all the time, during ups and downs, we should stick together,” he said.

Similar initiatives are also carried out in some businesses in Brunei, as a way to spread positive vibes in the workplace amid stressful times.

A car workshop at Kampong Tanjung Bunut, which employs 10 workers, six of which are foreigners has been doing morning energisers before each working day.

“We started doing this since two months ago and it actually helps our staff to open up. We noticed that their spirits are getting better,” said Accounts Executive of the company Zaimah Sa’adatul binti Shamsul.

Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humour lightens your burdens, inspires hope, connects you with others, and keeps you grounded, focussed, and alert. It also helps you release anger and forgive sooner.

So the next time you arrive at work, it might be useful to take your time to laugh to lighten your mood.