One of the most natural ways we can boost our health is laughter. Whether it’s a pet doing something cute, your favourite sitcom or a devilishly funny joke, a good chortle helps the body return to a more desirable state. What’s more, it’s contagious!
We all intrinsically know laughter is good for us. As children, we laughed a lot. As adults, life becomes more serious, and the number of times we laugh each day reduces.
That’s a shame because the phrase “Laughter is the best medicine” may have some truth behind it. Here are some reasons why.
Relieves symptoms of anxiety and depression
A review published in Social Science and Medicine analysed numerous studies on laughter and psychological wellbeing and found although more rigorous research needs to be done laughter may help manage symptoms of depression, anxiety and alter perceptions of stressful events.
Relaxes the body
You know the feeling when you’ve laughed so much your body goes limp. Laughter releases those clenched muscles and helps the body relax. After all, it’s difficult to be anxious or angry and laugh at the same time. A small study found stress hormones reduced in the blood after watching a sixty-minute funny video.
Strengthens the immune system
Stress and negative thoughts trigger hormones such as cortisol, adrenalin and other chemicals that suppress the body’s immunity. Conversely, some evidence suggests that laughter improves resistance to disease by increasing antibodies and natural killer cells, which have cancer-protective effects.
A review published in The European Journal of Pain found humour increased pain tolerance and helped with anxiety, stress, loneliness, and increased life satisfaction. Scientists speculate that comedy acts as a distraction from pain. Another hypothesis is that when people laugh, endorphins are released – chemicals naturally produced by the nervous system to cope with pain or stress, blocking pain messages from reaching the brain.
Promotes longer life
When researchers analysed data from a 15-year study of more than 53000 people, they found women with a high sense of humour had a reduced risk of death despite illness, especially from cardiovascular disease and infection. Men with high levels of humour had less chance of dying from infection only.
Helps build resilience
Research published in the Journal PLOS ONE found that the people who laughed the most in everyday life fared better when managing stressful life events.
Laughter builds social relationships.
When humans communicate, we mirror each other: we learn that as babies. So when someone is laughing, it’s difficult not to laugh or smile as well. Laughter is contagious and draws people together, diffuses conflict and keeps the spirits up in challenging situations.
Introduce laughter into life:
Find something funny in something that would usually annoy you.
Laugh at yourself more often. We’re all idiots at times.
Introduce things that make you smile into your environment.
Seek out humorous films, podcasts, jokes, or animal videos.
Van der wal. N and Kok.R. N. 2019. Laughter-inducing therapies: sytemic review and meta-analysis, Social Science and Medicine, 232, 473-488.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.02.018
Berk.l., Tan.S.A., Fry.W.F et al. (1989) Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter. The American Journal of Medical Studies, 298 (6) 390-396.doi.org/10.1097/00000441-198912000-00006
Pérez-Aranda, A, Hofmann, J, Feliu-Soler, A, et al. Laughing away the pain: A narrative review of humour, sense of humour and pain. Eur J Pain. 2019; 23: 220– 233. https://doi.org/10.1002/e
Bennett, M. P., & Lengacher, C. (2009). Humor and Laughter May Influence Health IV. Humor and Immune Function. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 6(2), 159–164. doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nem149
Simulated laughter during exercise in older adults Read the study at https://gerontologist.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/08/03/geront.gnw105.full?sid=3b88def6-8841-49f3-a4e2-faec3c48392e.
Thea Zander-Schellenberg, Isabella Mutschler Collins, Marcel Miché, Camille Guttmann, Roselind Lieb, Karina Wahl. Does laughing have a stress-buffering effect in daily life? An intensive longitudinal study. PLOS ONE, 2020; 15 (7): e0235851. doi.10.1371/journal.pone.0235851
Romundstad, Solfrid MD, PhD; Svebak, Sven PhD; Holen, Are MD, PhD; Holmen, Jostein MD, PhD (2016). A 15-Year Follow-Up Study of Sense of Humor and Causes of Mortality, Psychosomatic Medicine, 78, 3, 345-353. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000275.