We’ve all heard the saying about laughter being good for you, and instinctively this seems to be true, but is it? Is laughter the best medicine, or do we just feel better at the time we’re laughing.
Have you ever been in the company of someone who can’t stop laughing? Within moments, you’re also laughing.
It’s contagious, it’s sociable. It seems to be wired into our brains. It’s a natural and universal thing that we all do.
Interestingly, we laugh more at normal conversation than we do at actual jokes. Laughter is more than just humor, it is a form of conversation too.
Laughter is clearly part of our social interaction, it helps us to feel part of a group.
It signals our acceptance and enjoyment of being in the company of the other person.
There’s no doubt that laughter is an important part of interacting with the people around us. Laughter is an important social tool.
Laughter is fun and it’s free and we’ve all been doing it since we were 3 or 4 months old. Take a look at some YouTube videos of laughing babies, and you’ll be laughing within seconds.
It makes us feel good, but how deep does this feeling of well-being go? Can laughter actually have an impact on us at a biological level?
What happens to us when we laugh?
Given that laughter is universal, and recognized by everyone, it’s surprising that we very often don’t give too much thought as to why we actually laugh.
Laughter lessens conflict, pain, and stress. It is the best thing ever for bringing good feelings and pleasure.
There is nothing quite so enjoyable as laughing until we cry in the company of our friends.
We use humor and laughing to make light of our problems, reach out to those around us, and keep us relaxed and alert.
With this ability to renew your health and heal you, laughter can be a great soother for whatever problems you may have.
It can also strengthen your relationships, and can support your emotional and physical health and well-being.
Thankfully, it is something that has intrigued psychologists for a long time, and the study of laughter even has a name: gelotology from the Greek gelos – to laugh.
Studies have found that laughter has a huge effect on our immune systems, and this study concluded that “laughter has shown physiological, psychological, social, spiritual, and quality-of-life benefits.”
The researchers did however note that :
Although there is not enough data to demonstrate that laughter is an all-around healing agent, this review concludes that there exists sufficient evidence to suggest that laughter has some positive, quantifiable effects on certain aspects of health.
In this era of evidence-based medicine, it would be appropriate for laughter to be used as a complementary/alternative medicine in the prevention and treatment of illnesses, although further well-designed research is warranted.
In 2016 a further study indicated that laughter was a normal physiologic response to external and internal triggers and current research is demonstrating the amazing health benefits of laughter
Current research has demonstrated that laughter may also have serious positive and long-lasting physiological effects for those who engage in it on a regular basis.
We are already familiar with the preventative and curative properties of the keto diet, sleep and exercise. Now that laughter can be shown as a preventative, we should give it the importance it deserves.
Laughter and stress hormones
When we laugh our physiology changes.
Our blood pressure goes down and our heart health improves. The body releases its “happy hormones” endorphins.
These lift our mood and reduces our levels of the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol drop.
This study from all the way back to 1987 found that the stress hormones levels of 10 subjects watching an hour-long humor video decreased significantly.
Among experimental subjects, cortisol decreased from 240 ± 60 at baseline to 90 ± 10 a half-hour after finishing the video, compared to control subjects who decreased from 390 ± 90 to 270 ± 60 after the same amount of time.
Cortisol, one of the stress hormones, is produced all the time. Its levels rise and fall in our bodies in time with our circadian rhythm. When we’re under stress, cortisol levels rise.
Cortisol levels which remain too high for too long can cause many physical problems. Sleep difficulties when we’re stressed are triggered by high cortisol levels.
What isn’t quite so well-known is that elevated levels of cortisol can also trigger inflammation in our bodies.
If you’re unsure of why this may be a bad thing, you can read here: What is inflammation in the body?
As laughter can reduce cortisol levels, laughing can help to decrease inflammation, to the benefit of our health.
High cortisol can also increase the appetite, so by lowering cortisol levels overeating would become less of an issue.
Any reduction in obesity or overeating is going to have huge health benefits both now and in the long term.
Laughter and the immune system
It has been shown that when we laugh the movement of the diaphragm helps to pump your lymphatic circulation.
This helps the lymphatic vessels to carry this fluid through your body and helps your lymph nodes to clean and filter this fluid, removing waste products, dead cells, and even unwanted microorganisms.
Increased lymphatic flow leads to an elevated, enhanced immune system due to more lymph flowing through the nodes, thus producing more lymphocytes and antibodies.
Laughter boosts natural pain killers
Laughing will trigger the release of the body’s natural painkillers and feel good hormones endorphins, as demonstrated in this study.
These are natural chemicals released in the brain that are released in larger amounts when you’re feeling happy.
People who suffer from chronic pain have found that the pain is less intense, and does not happen as often
Laughter is able to keep the pain away, and they are able to be more active. These people are able to do so much more. This naturally increased the persons sense of happiness and well-being.
Laughter and creativity
Laughter effects many different chemical processes in the body.
The combination of reduced stress hormones, increased endorphins, and increased oxygenation to the blood and brain caused an increase in creativity in test subjects who laugh often.
By improving overall brain health and bolstering its natural support system, both hemispheres can work together more efficiently so creativity has a place to foster and grow.
Studies at Harvard, MIT, and Northwestern universities show that humor has a strong positive effect on creativity.
The more times you use humor and laugh, the more creative you get.
They found that humor and laughter are very complex cognitive functions that involve the entire brain. The left brain hemisphere “sets up” the joke, while the right one helps “getting” the joke.
This whole brain involvement enhances creativity.
Laughter and aging
Studies have proved that older people can actually live longer if they laugh more often.
Dr Sven Svenbak of the medical department, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology tracked 54,000 Norwegians for seven years.
He discovered that those individuals who found life the funniest lived longer than their less humorous countrymen.
People who found the world to be the most humorous were 35 percent more likely to still be alive at the end of the seven years of the study.
Cancer patients were many times more likely to survive if they managed to maintain their sense of humor despite their cancer diagnosis.
Research from Western Kentucky University demonstrated that laughter can improve the cancer killing ability of NK (natural killer) cells.
Reasons to Laugh
Physical benefits of laughter
• Boosts immune system
• Lowers stress hormones such as cortisol
• Increases antibodies
• Reduces pain and increases your pain threshold.
• Relaxes your muscles
• Improves your circulation
• Increases production of endorphins
Mental benefits of laughter
• Makes you feel good
• Relaxes you
• Relieves stress
• Improves mood
• Helps you to cope
Social benefits of laughter
• Strengthens bonds between yourself and others.
• Makes you feel part of a group.
• Makes you more attractive as a friend.
•Helps to make others want to join you.
• Defuses difficult situations.
• Makes other people happy.
Laughing is instinctive and universal; we laugh from 3 to 4 months old, and if we’re lucky, we never stop.
Numerous studies have shown that laughter helps us to feel good, connect to other people and enable us to let go of stress and relax.
Frequent laughter is able to positively influence everything in our bodies from our facial muscles to our immune system.
When we laugh we are unable to feel negative emotions at the same time.
Laughter releases our feel good hormones endorphins which make us feel happy. They also increase our pain tolerance.
Most of us know that low carb eating, sleeping well, intermittent fasting and exercise can help us to live longer but we are social beings and we need more.
We need our friends and our neighbors. Our work colleagues and our families, in short we need to connect.
Laughter provides us with that connection to other people and helps us bond with the important people in our lives.
It will also help us to live a long and healthy life. Life can be difficult at times, especially as we age.
A few friends and a good laugh really is the best medicine.
These articles may also interest you:l