It has long been known that laughter not only improves one’s  mood, but it also has physiological benefits such as increasing blood flow to the heart, reducing stress hormones, and improving the immune system.  British researchers have shown that fifteen minutes of laughter will enhance the level of endorphins, the body’s naturally produced pain killers.

What may be surprising is that even fake laughter appears to have the same benefits.  Based on this principle, an enterprising hypnotherapist in arguably one of the most stressed out cities in the world — Hong Kong — has set out to make as many people as possible laugh.  “In Hong Kong people don’t laugh because they are under constant pressure to make more money, to make life better,” says Dick Yu, who has started close to one dozen laughter clubs in the Chinese city over the past five years.

Yu is not a comedian.  He uses the concept of laughter yoga — made popular as an exercise routine by Indian physician Madan Kataria in 1995. His routine includes deep breathing exercises, having his class walk like penguins while giving each other high fives and reciting “Ho ho, ha, ha ha”.  Because the routine itself is so comical, the fake laughter usually becomes genuine.  “It was a bit awkward in the beginning when we tried to fake the laughter with the ‘ho ho, ha ha ha’, but after a while you can’t tell the difference, and you feel more relaxed,” said Kaman Wong at one of Yu’s classes.

Hong Kong has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.  People value success over health, and the recent influx of wealthy Chinese from the mainland has made real estate prices and the cost of goods soar, while wages have failed to keep up.  It is no wonder Yu’s laughter clubs are catching on. “The laughter club should be like a convenience store, which you have in every community. If everyone is laughing, the society will be happier,” he says.

In the meantime, Yu’s success has him laughing all the way to the bank.


About The Author

Frank Gillingham, M.D. serves as Chief Medical Director for HTH Worldwide. Frank has led HTH Worldwide's international business development efforts in Europe and Canada and has been a guest speaker at international business conferences and has authored a series of articles on travel medicine, including pieces on travel information available on the Internet and the role of physicians working with travel insurers. Frank is a Board-Certified Internist and Emergency Medicine Specialist. He is also a private emergency physician in Southern California and a former emergency department director and member of the UCLA emergency department staff. Frank completed residency training at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, received his M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania .

1 Comment


    Interesting that we should force a giggle on an assumption that laughing will permit permission to be happy at least temporarily….I suppose the real laugh comes when you have to return to your box of an overpriced apartment while the landlord laughs his head off.

    Landlord laughter club seems a good idea.

    Another giggle is that one in seven are poor in one of the richest cities in the world, and that H5N1 can now be contracted by breathing ,however speaking as a health professional the air is so poisoned by pollution that I wonder if the strain will survive and can be transmitted.

    In order of preference according to my patients, stress is caused by a low bank rate,increase price of rice and slow internet.

    for the rest …have a laugh on me.

    lee du ploy (hong kong)

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