Why Laughter Really is the Best Medicine
Do you ever wonder why you feel better after watching a really hilarious comedy? I know when I laugh I don’t only feel better psychologically, it’s almost like I feel physically healthier.
This got me thinking… Could that old saying about laughter being the best medicine actually be true?
I mean, we’re constantly looking for all sorts of ways to improve our health: changing our diets, taking supplements, going to the gym, and visiting our doctors. But what if good health is just a laugh away?
After all, cheerful people seem to be more energetic, less stressed, and enjoy their lives more. And I’ve heard centenarians (people who love to 100 years or more) claim that the secret to longevity lies in laughter and the ability look trouble in the face with a twinkle in your eye.
So I decided to do some digging to find out if science bears out this idea that laughter is actually medicine.
Today I’m going to share what I discovered.
Physical Benefits of Laughter
Just try smiling right now. Do you feel the muscles and lines of your face (especially in the forehead) suddenly relax? Imagine what a good laugh can do! Whether you are exchanging jokes with a friend, watching a comedy show or reading a funny comic strip, you will find that a good laugh has great short-term effects. It instantly induces changes in your body that can stimulate your muscles, including your heart, and enhance the intake of oxygen into your lungs.
Studies show that laughter stimulates your brain to release stress relief hormones called endorphins, which cool down your body’s response to stress. It improves your heart rate and blood pressure, thus improving your circulation and soothing tension.
But if you think that these are just temporary effects, studies suggest that laughter may actually improve your immune system function. While constant negative thoughts can induce chemical reactions that can decrease your immunity, positive thoughts have been found to result in the release of neuropeptides that help fight chronic stress and potentially serious illnesses.
For people who are experiencing pain, laughter eases discomfort by causing their bodies to produce their own natural painkillers. This has been found to increase one’s pain tolerance by about 10 percent. Laughing also helps break the cycle of pain and spasm that is common to some muscle disorders. By releasing endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, laughter promotes an overall sense of well-being that can last the whole day. In addition, experts say that these effects can help improve sleep.
Can laughter be a solution to the problem of obesity? You burn around 100 calories when you run a mile, but research from the Vanderbilt University suggests that getting just 10-15 minutes of laughter a day can help burn up to 40 to 50 calories. You use a lot of muscles, not only in the face, but even from the diaphragm and the rest of the body when you get a hearty laugh, so the more you do it, the more calories you burn. One study involving people with diabetes found that after eating a meal and watching a comedy, participants had lower blood sugar levels than they did after listening to a tedious lecture.
Mechanisms of the cardiovascular benefits of laughter are not clear, but by improving your blood circulation, habitual laughter can help protect against heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. A recent study at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore found that compared to people who have no heart disease, those who have suffered a heart attack or undergone coronary artery bypass surgery were more inclined to display anger and hostility and less likely to laugh or respond well to everyday life situations, even in positive circumstances.
Emotional Benefits of Laughter
It is a common observation that men have a greater ability to elicit laughter while women are more likely to laugh more often. This implies an interaction, and some people believe that the amount of laughter in marriage may help determine the health of the relationship.
Aside from joking and talking, tickling is one of the best ways to elicit laughter. It is another form of interaction that makes both the tickler and the tickled laugh together. You cannot tickle yourself, and you can only tickle or get tickled by someone close to you. Therefore, there is a form of emotional bonding when a parent tickles a child, or when partners do it to each other. The result is fun and laughter, which usually ends with a feeling of closeness.
It is not difficult to imagine the emotional benefits of laughing, whether you are alone watching a funny movie or with friends and loved ones. Humor generally results in an elevated mood and reduces anxiety and depression. It can give you feelings of well-being by increasing energy and vigor. It can even promote hope and optimism, as well as self-esteem and resilience. Although laughter cannot make your problems go away, having a positive attitude can help you cope with your problems in a better perspective. Even people who have chronic illnesses may feel less depressed and more hopeful when they can connect with other people and share laughter with them.
Aside from anxiety and depression, laughter also helps ease other negative feelings such as boredom, anger and fear. It diverts your mind and emotions away from negative thoughts and moods and turns them into more pleasurable feelings.
Mental Health Benefits of Laughter
Laughter does not only relieve tension and depression, but it also promotes your mental or cognitive abilities. Many people believe that lighthearted people who are always laughing do not take responsibilities seriously. New research from Johns Hopkins Medical School, however, shows that students who enjoy humor do better on their test scores than other students.
Researchers at Loma Linda University in California also found that healthy older adults perform better in tests for memory recall after viewing funny videos than those who were not allowed to talk, read or watch anything. Studies also indicate that older adults who engage in social interaction with friends, enjoy group exercise, or watch TV sitcoms daily experience an increase in learning ability as well as a better quality of life. Other cognitive benefits of laughter include enhanced creativity, better problem-solving ability, and increased ability to find alternative solutions to cope with stress.
Social Benefits of Laughter
Humor and laughter bring health to your social relationships. It helps you become more spontaneous and less defensive. Laughter helps you forget doubts, judgments, and criticisms. You tend to let go of your inhibitions and express how you really feel, making you open to more social interactions.
Making people laugh and laughing with other people promotes social interactions that improve your quality of life. Your ability to find humor in daily situations can be attractive to others and may increase friendliness toward people. Often times you do not have to go to an expensive restaurant or travel far to enjoy the company of friends and loved ones.
A study from the University of Maryland found that laughter is a social activity and that you are more likely to laugh when you are in a social setting than when you are alone. Spending light moments in laughter can help strengthen relationships, enhance teamwork, attract others, help resolve conflict, and promote group bonding.
Positive bonds act as strong buffers against stress, disappointment, and disagreements. Shared laughter with co-workers, family and friends is one of the most effective ways to keep your relationships fresh and exciting. Although various forms of emotional sharing help build strong and lasting bonds, sharing laughter and fun also adds resilience, joy and vitality to relationships.
Humor may be used as a powerful tool to heal disagreements, hurts, and resentments. Laughter can unite people even during difficult times. It reinforces group identity and cohesiveness and promotes happy marriages and closer relationships.
Bring More Laughter into Your Life
People are probably born with a natural sense of humor. After all, it does not take much to make a baby break out into fits of laughter. Infants begin to interact and smile during the first few weeks of life and laugh within months. Laughter can be contagious, too, and you will find that people tend to gather where there is merriment. But somehow, people tend to laugh less as they grow older. You might also notice that relationships tend to deteriorate when the laughter is gone.
If you want to bring more health to your life, add laughter to your daily routine. Having a happy disposition can make it easier to overcome the challenges of dieting, exercising and dealing with stressful situations. If you have a chronic condition, your treatments are more likely to work with a boost in your immune function, which could come from a daily dose of laughter. But how do you find more laughter in your life?
Don’t worry if you are afraid that you have an underdeveloped funny bone. Learning and developing a sense of humor is easier than you think. There are several ways of bringing more mirth into your life:
- Practice smiling more often. A smile is contagious and it could signal the beginning of laughter. Smile when you look at someone or when you see something even slightly pleasing.
- Increase positive thoughts by counting your blessings. Make a list of the good things in your life. Some people recommend doing this daily by writing down three to five things you are thankful for during the day. It will help reduce negative thoughts that block you from enjoying humor.
- Increase laughter in your daily routine by looking for things that you enjoy and make you chuckle or laugh. Some people keep comic books, while others enjoy funny movies and TV sitcoms. Read, watch, and listen to these jovial sources of entertainment when you need a humor boost.
- Practice laughing about your own situations and your stress will begin to fade away. It may feel forced at first, but it will do your body a lot of good.
- Spend more time with friends who make you laugh. Do your share by contributing your own funny stories and jokes with people around you.
- Remember when you used to enjoy sharing “knock-knock” jokes with your friends? People were always alert for new versions and it kept everyone sharp and creative. Well, one is never too old for jokes like these, and these are the type of jokes everyone from all ages can enjoy.
- Some jokes are not funny and laughing at the expense of others may be inappropriate. Use your best judgment to distinguish good jokes from those that are bad or hurtful to others.
- Experience the joys of playing with a pet. Studies show that caring for pets can protect you from stress, depression, and heart disease. They can even make you laugh!
- Join in the laughter. When you hear people sharing jokes and laughter, move toward them. Most people are happy to share something funny because doing so makes them laugh again. So the next time you hear laughter, ask them, “What’s funny?”
- Spend some time with people who are fun to be with, who are able to laugh at themselves and even at life’s absurdities. These people find humor in everyday events and their spirited point of view can be contagious.
- Take yourself less seriously. Although some events in our lives are obviously sad, most events do not bear an overwhelming sense of sadness. Always try to see the lighter side of life, first by laughing at yourself, especially after an embarrassing moment occurs.
- Try to laugh at situations rather than complain about them. Take every opportunity to look for something funny in a bad situation. This will allow you to discover the ironies and absurdities of life, which can help improve your mood as well as those around you.
- Surround yourself with things that remind you to lighten up. Whether it is a cute toy on your desk, a cheerful poster in your office, photos of your fun vacation, or a silly computer screensaver that makes you laugh, cheery objects remind you to smile more often during the day, especially during stressful moments.
- Keep things in proper perspective. Most things in life are outside your control, especially other people’s behavior. Focus on things that are within your power to improve.
- Learn to manage your stress. Stress blocks you from experiencing humor in your life.
- When it comes to fun and laughter, children are experts. Try to spend more time with them playing, laughing, and taking things lightly.
If you still want to get more laughter and its benefits into your life, join a laughter therapy group. Laughter therapy, or humor therapy, uses humor to promote overall health and wellness. It uses the natural physiological processes associated with laughter to relieve physical and emotional stress or discomfort. This type of treatment is now becoming more popular among people with chronic illnesses because experts believe that laughter has healing powers related to its ability to boost immune function.
When used with conventional treatment, laughter therapy helps in the overall healing process of cancer patients. For example, it is used at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), where experts help patients fight cancer using an integrative approach. However, their Laughter Club does not use humor or jokes to promote laughter. Instead, instructors use laughter as a physical exercise that involves patients making repetitious “ha ha” and “hee hee” sounds until they feel vibrations in their bodies. Although it may start out as forced laughing sounds, the exercise ends up with everybody laughing so hard that it becomes contagious.
Other forms of laughter therapy include laughter meditation and laughter yoga. Laughter meditation is not strictly a form of therapy, but participants are taught how to achieve laughter while focusing on the moment. It involves stretching, crying, or laughing accompanied by a meditative silence. Laughter yoga, on the other hand, involves stretching, laughter and breathing exercises similar to regular yoga. Laughter exercises last up to 45 minutes and may be used both as a psychological therapy and a form of physical exercise.
WebMD. Give Your Body a Boost — With Laughter. http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter
Mayo Clinic. Stress management. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456
University of Maryland Medical Center. Laughter is the Best Medicine for Your Heart. http://umm.edu/news-and-events/news-releases/2009/laughter-is-the-best-medicine-for-your-heart
Placebo Effects. 9 Benefits of Laughter: Why Laughter Really is the Best Medicine. http://blog.placeboeffect.com/benefits-of-laughter/
HuffingtonPost. New Study Proves That Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/22/laughter-and-memory_n_5192086.html
HelpGuide.org. Laughter is the Best Medicine. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm
PBS. Benefits of Humor. http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/humor/benefits-humor
Psychology Today. The Benefits of Laughter. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200304/the-benefits-laughter
Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Laughter therapy. http://www.cancercenter.com/treatments/laughter-therapy/