The Benefit of Laughter

The Benefit of Laughter

Did you know that healthy children can laugh 400 times in a day but adults only average 15 times? It seems that we all need more laughter in our lives. But, does it really matter? Is laughter the best medicine?

The Benefit of Laughter

Well, research indicates that laughter is beneficial for our stress levels and our overall wellbeing. There are immediate short-term benefits and there are great long-term effects:

Short Term:

  1. Reduce stress: Laughter changes the perspective of stressful events and we can view them more as challenges and therefore less threatening. The relaxation of your muscles makes you less tense which reduces the symptoms of stress.
  2. Stimulation: Laughter increases your breathing and the oxygen boost stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles. And, the brain releases more endorphins.
  3. Exercise: Laughing is an exercise for the diaphragm, abs and shoulders and also leaves them more relaxed.
  4. Contagious: Laughter is contagious. It effects the others around you and brings increased benefits to a group. You will laugh more at a comedy with a group than on your own.

Long Term:

  1. Immune system: The positive thoughts that accompany laughter releases neuropeptides that help fight stress and general illnesses. While you have banished the negative thoughts that would otherwise flood your body with harmful and stress producing chemicals.
  2. Pain: Laughter is believed to produce natural painkillers to ease pain.
  3. Depression: Laughter provides a long term and beneficial effect by reducing the symptoms of depression.
  4. Fake it: Research indicates that the positive effects of laughter are not dependant on whether it is real or faked. Like many things, faking it works and, as a bonus, usually leads to it becoming real over the long term.
  5. Social: As in ‘contagious’ above, the group benefits of laughter can lead to an improvement in the quality of your social life.

You don’t find that much is funny in life? Just give it a try and try to find the funny side. Laugh at your bloopers instead of cursing. Enjoy a good comedy – live is often best. Observe yourself after a good laugh. Feeling good and relaxed? That’s laughter at work.

Re-entering the Outside World

Re-entering the Outside World

Travelling post-Covid

In the 2015 movie “Room”, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, a mother and her son Jack are held captive in a single-room outbuilding for nearly seven years.  During this time, “Ma” works to keep her son healthy and happy by structuring their days with physical and mental exercises, keeping a healthy diet, limiting TV-watching time, and a strict regime of body and oral hygiene. Because it is all he has ever known, Jack believes that only the things in his immediate world are “real.” Ma, unwilling to disappoint Jack with a life she cannot give him, allows him to believe that the rest of the world exists only on television.  When they eventually escape, Ma must begin the process of relearning how to interact with the larger world, and Jack, who is overwhelmed by new experiences and people (and the realisation that the world actually exists beyond TV), wants only to return to the safety of the world he knows – the world of his Room.

I recently ventured out of Hong Kong for the first time in two years.  My husband and I planned the trip in order to bring our son home – he’d been delayed in Australia because of Hong Kong’s ban on flights from “high risk” countries.  We intended to meet him in Thailand, do a 14-day “wash out”, and then fly back to Hong Kong together.  The trip was functional in nature, with the goal of getting him back to Hong Kong and regular school.  It took weeks of organising, securing various approvals, passes, and certificates, and an off-the-charts level of patience.

About a week before we were set to travel, the HK government rescinded the flight ban, which meant we could potentially fly our son straight back to the city.  This prompted a debate:  Should we still go?  Was it necessary? Should we spend the money?  Would we rather wait and take an actual holiday later?  What if we got Covid while overseas?  Would we be able to get proper medical attention?  Would we be able to get back into Hong Kong?  And on, and on.

Eventually, having reminded ourselves that we both loved Thailand and we hadn’t been outside of Hong Kong for what felt like ages, we decided to go. Being effectively ‘grounded’ (or as some of our friends described it, “imprisoned”) for the last two years had taught us two things:  first, that life is short, and it is richer with travel; second, that we’d taken for granted our ability to see friends and family whenever we wanted.  Like most Hong Kong people, we were used to hopping on a plane at a moment’s notice, and living away from our families had not precluded us from seeing them.  We saw an opportunity to reconnect through this trip.  We decided to turn it into a long-awaited holiday, and invited the rest of our family and some friends to join us.  With the decision made, we felt a surge of joy and anticipation.  We had something to look forward to.

While we fully expected that travel in a post-Covid world would be a logistical hassle, what we didn’t anticipate was how it would feel to be out in the world again.  We experienced walking mask-free down public streets and entering restaurants without checking in.  We went to bars that were packed wall-to-wall with people (again, no masks).  We saw people shaking hands and hugging again.  We made plans and reservations for meals and activities, without having to check whether venues were open.  We were able to go out without carrying our phones.

How did it feel?  Honestly, it was a strange sensation, which led us to reflect on how we’d coped with the last two years.  We felt happy, sad, frustrated, regretful, guilty, optimistic, and resigned all at the same time.  The joy and appreciation of rejoining the outside world sat very uncomfortably against a sense of grief at having missed two years with people we love.  Had we done the right thing in avoiding travelling to see our family and friends, simply because of government restrictions?  Should we have pushed ourselves harder to just cope with multiple periods (and the expense) of hotel quarantine, for the reward of spending precious time with loved ones?  What if something had happened to them (as it did for so many families) and we weren’t there?  This was an experience of simultaneous celebration and self-flagellation.  Being with our family and friends again filled our hearts, and also reminded us of how much we’d missed.  In addition, it highlighted how much we’d gotten used to life with Covid – mask-wearing, contact tracing, vaccination discussions, rapid antigen testing, and avoiding coughing in public all felt normal to us.  The absence of these things felt uncomfortable and foreign.

There is something in this for me that connects back to Ma’s experience of escaping the Room.  She’s been isolated for so long, and the narrow world she’s inhabited for the last seven years has suddenly widened beyond comprehension.  She does not remember how to exist in that world. What was an effective coping mechanism – creating structure, routine, and stories for herself and Jack to deal with a lack of freedom – is no longer needed.  The prison no longer exists.  But she also feels guilt at not preparing Jack for the real world.  Anger for being imprisoned for so long and missing out on life. Uncertainty about how to relate to people other than her son.  Regret at not having been able to escape sooner.  Grief at the loss of time and the experiences she and Jack have missed.  Fear and discomfort at re-entering a world that has been lost to her for seven years.

The tight restrictions in Hong Kong were nothing compared to what Ma and Jack had to endure.  I am not suggesting for a second that travel restrictions are anywhere close to being imprisoned and traumatised on a daily basis for seven years.  What does strike me is the wide range and similarity of feelings that bubble up once a fuller amount of freedom is available to us, whether that freedom comes in the form of post-Covid travel or a release from captivity.

Our ability to adapt to our surroundings has ensured our survival over time.   Covid led governments around the world to implement restrictions on daily living which none of us could have imagined.  And we’ve coped with those restrictions by getting used to not travelling, by learning to be more still, and by adapting our daily routines to fill the void.  Ma coped with her lack of freedom much in the same way – by creating routines to foster a sense of normalcy for her and her son.  We humans have the capacity for profound resilience in the face of adversity.

As our world begins to open up, a new range of choices becomes available to us.  What will we do with that freedom?  We can stay home, avoid the complexity of travel and the risk of getting sick, and remain comfortable in the routines we’ve built for ourselves.  The trade-off is, perhaps, a greater richness in life.  Alternatively, we can start travelling and stepping back out into the world, accepting that we don’t know what will happen when we do, and we don’t know how it’ll affect us.

Regardless of whether you stay put, or step back into travel, you can expect to “feel all of the feels”.  The challenge is to stay in the present and allow the full range of emotions to wash through us.  Nothing can be done to change the past or to control the future.  

What choice will you make?  

Kelly Hutchison

Kelly Hutchison is a psychotherapist, counsellor and executive coach with aMindset, based in Hong Kong. 

To book an individual consultation or discuss mental health & wellness initiatives for your organization, contact Kelly on +852 9179 4454 or 

Other Articles by Kelly:

Find out more about Kelly here


  • Master of Counselling, Monash University, Australia
  • Master of Applied Science (Innovation & Organisation Dynamics), RMIT University, Australia
  • Bachelor of Arts (Liberal Arts/Music), Florida State University, USA
  • Executive Coaching – Level Two Coach, Institute of Executive Coaching & Leadership, Australia
  • Member, Hong Kong Society of Counselling & Psychology
  • Member, Australian Counselling Association
  • Member, Hong Kong Professional Counselling Association

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how Kelly or AMindset can support you, please contact us.

Grieving the Loss of a Mother

Grieving the Loss of a Mother

With Mother’s Day approaching at the time of writing, this article addresses the deeply emotional and painfully challenging experience of losing one’s mother. Also, many people suffer from the profound feelings of grief that often arise on poignant occasions such as Mother’s Day.

Grieving the Loss of a Mother

It is, of course, normal to experience such pain when you consider the special relationship that you shared. But there are ways that you can alleviate and help to resolve this grief.

The renowned psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, proposed 5 stages of grief (Kubler-Ross Model) as:

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Just understanding and acknowledging the process that you are going through can be a large step towards acceptance – the sort of acceptance that says, “my mother has died but I will be okay’. While the order of the stages may seem logical, not everyone will follow exactly this order or experience all of the stages. But, these are the most commonly observed.

As the day approaches and you begin to feel dread at the prospect of a miserable resurgence of grief, be proactive and plan ahead with these ideas to:

Honour your Mum on Mother’s Day:

  1. Write a letter where you reminisce about good times you shared and tell her your life stories since her death.
  2. Tell your own children stories about your mum.
  3. Spend quality time with your own family on Mother’s Day.
  4. Reminisce with brothers and sisters.
  5. Be brave and get out the photo album and celebrate the memories.
  6. Donate to a charity in your mother’s name – ideally one that she supported.
  7. Volunteer and do something for others in need on Mother’s Day.

There is no short way to get over the loss of your mother, but you will ease the way by understanding the process and honouring her memory. And, while the old adage that ‘time heals’ is not completely true, the pain will definitely become more bearable with time.

World Disasters and Psychological Stress

World Disasters and Psychological Stress

We live in such a world of turmoil and calamity that even the news-media is struggling to keep up with the latest disaster story. It must be an interesting selection process to decide which disasters to first feature on the news. Of course, the media focus is on what will keep us, the viewers, watching their news channel. Fortunately, in this present age, there are enough disasters taking place that we have a smorgasbord of different choices and at least one of them will hold our attention. 

World Disasters and Psychological Stress

Our focus will be partially determined by our empathy with the disasters, our feelings of relief that we were not involved, the fear that it could happen to us and the horrendous potential that we could lose something in the process.

If we reflect on the world, as it is today, with the indiscriminate persecution of innocent men, woman and children, it is horrible and distressing. The slaughtering of civilians in many countries and the persecution of woman in others.  There is the devastation to the forests of the world, which means that the animals are losing their habitat and fresh-air supply. The pollution that the human manages to generate through automation, and the desire for bigger, better and more comfortable, is destroying the planet.  Right now, the world may not be in the middle of a Great War, but the planet is at war with skirmishes literally breaking out all over the globe.

Planet Earth

The Earth itself is erupting, flooding and scorching when the tension and pollution become too much for even that great consciousness. We then have to consider the loss of jobs as a result of a recession or automation. The ‘disaster’ list is endless.

It is no wonder we are having a hard time getting our head around each new calamity and the potential feeling of loss that it may bring within our psyche. We are not robots, so we are affected in some way because of our connection to humanity, a home or a job. We can now start to understand why we are so stressed that we can hardly cope with life.

We might even have asked ourselves:

What is this all about?

Why does there have to be so much suffering in the world?

If we are lucky enough to get an answer from ‘The Ones on High’, then we may find solace in that omnipotent revelation and we can function for another day.  However, if we do not get an answer but still want to understand from a basic human level, then the knowledge of balance and harmony within nature may be of some comfort.  It may simply come down to the fact that the effect of world disasters on our psyche is determined by how we live our life which is determined by the way we think..

Animals – Living with Harmony and Balance in Nature

Look at how nature functions – it is a tough world in the jungle and I will give you an example. The Lion featured in the picture above is the Alpha Male of 2 prides of Lions within this safari park where my husband took this picture.  The Lion is the boss of this safari park and you can see from his demeanour that he is very balanced and content with his life.  The fact that there was a truck with 3 people in his way and there was a gun in that truck which would be used to kill him should he attack, didn’t faze him at all.

At the time of this photo he had been away from his southern pride lionesses for a few months as he had been with his northern pride family.  He was now tracking the southern pride to reacquaint himself with his harem of lionesses. Oh, and as an aside, he had killed the original alpha male of the northern pride a few years previously which placed him in the enviable position of being the boss of both prides.  However, he is 10 years old which is the usual life expectancy of a Lion and very soon a young male will challenge his leadership and this Lion King will be killed. Nothing is permanent.

The King is Dead – Long Live the King

Like most members of the animal kingdom, this Lion and all animals live in harmony and balance with nature and accept what is presented to them in their life. This lion doesn’t seem to care that he only has a few years or less to hold onto his exalted position.  He is just getting on with the present task which is to find the southern pride and he seems to be enjoying the stroll. A few years previously he may have killed off any young male who threatened his tenure-ship as the Boss. But that was then, this is now, and the future he will deal with when it happens.

What a great way to live….

In the Small Picture of the Human

It is only in this modern age with the feverish desire for comfort, safety and permanence that the human has developed a phobia about any potential loss. It is the fear of losing ‘some-thing’ that causes us to be unhappy, anxious and stressed.  It is no accident that the world-wide stress levels are at epidemic proportions at a time when humans have so many possessions and appear (some of them at least) to have all their desires fulfilled.

However, nothing is permanent and indeed, if you objectively look at what you think you possess, you really possess ‘no-thing’.  Even without a disastrous occurrence, your children will leave home (or maybe them NOT leaving is the disastrous event). The dog, cat or goldfish that you love will leave you.  Everything is transitory and, if you can appreciate this simple fact, then you will alleviate a lot of your fears, calamitous living and stress.  Psychological stress is caused because we think we have to have everything. We believe it is our entitlement (certainly in the Western hemisphere) to have all of our desires met, which is the first part of the ‘stress precipitant’.  We then become more stressed that we may lose our amazing possessions.

Try to look objectively at your job, your home, your partner and appreciate that all will move on and nothing can be held in place. The more you try to hold on to them the more unhappy you will become as your neurotic thoughts try to create the impossibility of permanence.  We are all going to die and someone else will eventually move into your home or take over your pride.

So, instead of worrying about the disasters of the world or what you personally might lose in your world, just enjoy what you have right now. Appreciate that you are allowed to enjoy what you have in the present, do not be depressed about what you perceive you may have lost in the past and allow that the future can be dealt with later. Clean out the old negative, possessive way of thinking and replace those thoughts with positive, brighter ones.  Become the Lion…….

In the Big Picture of the World

As for the disastrously mouth-watering news media world – if each power-hungry dictator or government would stop trying to set up their permanent dynasty then much of the suffering could be stopped or at least alleviated.  This philosophy applies to the seizure of land, the building of a child-army, the murdering of members of an opposition party, to the with-holding of knowledge about an aircraft that may have crashed. Just as the media do not report the stories based on the suffering involved, the individuals perpetuating the disaster stories are not doing it for the highest good of the ones that are suffering. They are doing it for their own permanent power and position.

So, my answer to you for dealing with World Disasters and Calamity at a basic human level

Change the way you think. Focus on your own life and don’t get too caught up in the misery that is out there. Of course, if you can do something to help then great news – go for it. But, remember that the healing starts from within your own heart and mind, so you have to be balanced within your own life.  Then through that peace and harmony you can alleviate some of the suffering with your prayers, blessings or physical presence – if you are able to help at that level.

But only through detached compassion will you be able to give true assistance. And detached compassion requires you to be at balance within yourself and to learn to think clearly. Let go of trying to hold onto anything and remember nothing is permanent – including this present world or personal disasters.