Health and Laughter
Have you ever wondered if laughter has any correlation to your overall health? When we’re laughing we’re happy, so it’s no wonder that health and laughter are related. It can improve respiration, stimulate circulation, and so much more! Take a look.
Laughing to the Bank Like…
So it’s April Fools’ Day again. Some of you love it, and some of you hate it. For some, this is a day to let their talent for pranking, their nature for jokes, and their incapacity of seriousness fly as they help others “loosen up.”
For others, this is the day you forgot happened once a year, but are abruptly reminded when the cliché faucet sprayer is rubber-banded down, toilet seat saran wrapped, clocks moved forward, or you have some seriously creative relationships that go the extra mile. I’m not bitter.
No, April Fools’ Day has a different connotation for me.
I was the “try so hard, but fail miserably” type. I’m the clown at heart, but the cat with duct taped feet and peanut butter in the mouth when it comes to cleverness and secret keeping.
You can easily imagine that kid right?
There I was thinking it would be so funny to to watch somebody drink a soda filled with salt. I opened the can, dumped literally an entire shaker of Morton’s best, and so graciously walked the “spiked” Diet Coke to my mom, with a huge grin on my face, only to find that there was no way in Hades she was going to drink such a clearly laid out trap for her.
No, I never got the concept.
And then there are your “Winstons” of the world—shout out to the New Girl fans—that don’t get pranking as the world sees it, but love it.
This would be my wife. You “Prank Sinatras” who can’t find the middle ground. You either find joy in rearranging items on a desk or setting somebody’s photo album ablaze.
For all of you, I warn, pretending to get married by actually getting married to fool all your friends, is probably the less desirable of the two options…
Laughing is good for you. Period.
Health Benefits of Laughter
Sure, there’s a time and place. But there’s not a lot to debate here. Because, bottom line, laughing makes you feel better. The relationship between health and laughter is as old as time.
It is the comic relief in an intense movie, it’s the laugh-cry when the struggle is real, it’s the sympathy laugh for the America’s Funniest Home Videos reels that give you three minutes of pure pain as people do stupid things.
You know that healing feeling of laughter. But, the question is, can laughter be implemented further?
What exactly is taking place in our bodies when we laugh? Could it actually be classified as something that provides a healthy addition to our everyday routines?
Unfortunately, the answer is still uncertain.
Through scientific process, we know a lot about what laughing isn’t (some miraculous “cure-all” for diseases). That said, we are beginning to more closely define what it is.
Below, I have listed 10 Health Benefits of Laughter. You will find some of the latest theories and ideas backed by research and experimental study that will help you realize the good that laughing can do—maybe above the obvious.
1. Reduces Stress, Tension & Frustration
No, truthfully, kudos to you if you simply are not one for stressing, or to those who have found healthy ways to manage stress.
But for the rest of us who find stress can sometimes be crippling, the cause of so much heartache, lack of productivity, and personal deprivation, there are answers.
According to “Humor, Health, and Higher Education: Laughing Matters,” we learn that humor can help deal with our stresses, tensions, and frustrations.
The authors mention laughing as being constructive and healthy in the context of helping students cope with the high amounts of homework and other “to-dos.”
Researchers suggest that laughter helps increase certain hormone levels while reducing others that are directly associated with blood pressure and stress.
In the article “University Of Maryland School Of Medicine Study Shows Laughter Helps Blood Vessels Function Better,” the researchers go so far as to claim that laughter has shown a significant link in healthy function of blood vessels.
They go on to say, “The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, so, given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” and that “at the very least, laughter offsets the impact of mental stress.”
In another study: “Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review,” the author delves into several existing theories on laughter and its benefit on health.
He says, “laughter is able to reduce stress by easing arousal and tension…if people laugh in a stressful situation their physical arousal state declines and the stressful situation is no longer as negative or detestable.”
Regardless of your stress level or cardiovascular health, it can clearly be said that laughter is not going to hurt you in these areas. These researchers have gone as far to say that laughter will in fact help lower the impact, and in some cases the cause, of stress on the body.
If one thing is true about all the items on this list, you’re not going to be out anything, or in any worse position, from having laughed a little more.
There are many studies aimed at helping students learn in ways that are most accommodative towards differing learning styles.
We, collectively, are becoming more understanding of the parable of teaching and evaluating students on one criteria. But until processes are streamlined, and new practices are adopted into mainstream schooling, teachers have to do their best with what they have.
With that in mind, there are many findings showing significant value in incorporating humor in lectures and classrooms.
The authors of “Humor, Health, and Higher Education: Laughing Matters” also suggest in their findings that laughter can aid the teaching-learning process. They say that “appropriate humor reduces an anxiety, promotes rapport in the teacher-student relationship, and creates a climate conducive to learning.”
In my own experience as a graduate teaching assistant at Southern Utah University, I had the opportunity to teach Communication 1010 and, in turn, public speaking.
Semester after semester, we would go over the strategies in establishing credibility, connecting with the audience, and engaging your audience to help retention. Humor was one of the high points/key players to include when looking to create an atmosphere conducive of these characteristics.
Needless to say, I tried my best to do the same with my students. I found humor often helped students feel more drawn to the lessons presented and maintain attention in a “digitally loud” world.
The next time you find yourself in a teaching and/or learning atmosphere, you may take note that adding a tone of occasional humor may increase your ability to connect and establish relevance with your counterpart.
3. “Quality of Life” Scores Increase
In a study on laughter and nursing home patients: “The effect of laughter therapy on the quality of life of nursing home patients,” researchers found that the “quality-of-life scores of residents in the experimental group significantly increased in comparison to their pretest.”
They conclude to have seen increases in mood, cortisol levels, and “health-related” quality of life areas including happiness, enjoyment of activities, etc.
Laughing was a source to completely alter the mood of the patients.
While you may not be a patient in a nursing home, truth is, we should take a self-evaluation of our current perception of our own “quality of life scores.”
Do we find that we are satisfied with our current position in life? Regardless of our trials and difficulties do we feel comfortable with the path we are on, and the things we’ve accomplished? If you have a hard time answering any of these, or related questions, it sounds like incorporating additional laughter may be worth your time.
In fact, there are a lot of factors that could potentially play a part in how we rate our quality of life. Whether or not we feel we are lonely, have a supportive network, are in debt, have health issues, the list goes on.
And while some of these items can take time, effort, and additional resources to resolve, some of them are simply out of our hands. Fortunately, and it is the common theme, laughing is not only an option that can help us, but it is a free option (unless you’re paying big bucks to see a top comedian).
This leads us quite nicely into the next health benefit of laughter.
4. Improvement in Mood and Social Interaction
In a similar study as the one mentioned above, “The effects of simulated laughter programme on mood, cortisol levels, and health-related quality of life among haemodialysis patients,” we learn that mood and social interaction are altered significantly with the presence of laughter.
They state that with group sessions of “simulated laughter” (a term referred to in other studies later mentioned in reference to different types of laughter) that the group “exhibited improvements in mood. . .and social interaction quality”.
You may have seen this too. You’re in a sour mood and don’t feel like doing anything or talking to anyone. Either a friend or family approaches you cautiously and does something (either purposefully or not) that makes you laugh. Your mood is abruptly different, and often without your consent.
That is partially supported by the claims made in the above study, that there are chemical level changes that take place in the brain with the act of laughing.
The inability to control this response is not only impressive, but intriguing. We, by nature, can feel a change in our mood because of the chemical changes taking place in our brain because of laughter.
The article suggests that even more impactful is simply the change in the tone and feeling of the atmosphere. The air is almost tangibly different when laughter is present. That tone and atmosphere then can have an altering impact on how we perceive our mood, and in turn our actual mood.
What does that mean for you?
While sometimes we need a moment to grieve, be quiet, and think, for the times we are just down we can help our future moody selves by setting up easily accessed funny triggers when we have clarity of mind.
Ok, we’ve gone through some benefits of laughter that improve social health and arguably “soft skills,” but what about mental and physical health?
5. Improves Mental Health, Physical Performance & Self-efficacy
According to “Evaluation of Laughter-based Exercise Program on Health and Self-efficacy for Exercise,” laughter elicited positive emotions in the studied group that showed significant implications on mental healthy, physical performance and self-efficacy. Self efficacy is defined as the belief in one’s ability to succeed.
Individuals showed higher participation in physical activity programs including “moderate-intensity strength, balance, and flexibility,” mental health questionnaires and the confidence in one’s self in recovery to do a certain action, etc.
If there was ever a reason to be happier and include more laughter in your day, being physically healthier should be one of them!
In the study’s implications, the authors suggest the use of laughter in physical activity programs for older adults who struggle to accumulate sufficient levels of physical activity.
Please note: eating healthy, exercising, and engaging in other healthy behaviors will always be important to having strong physical health, and we do not want to discount that in any way.
However, judging by the information available in so many recent studies, laughter not only should be added to the list of how to maintain proper healthy, but should be looked at with additional interest when evaluating options to increase physical health.
Depression, lack of self-confidence, self-appearance, and self-value are at higher levels in our society than we’d like.
Whether one struggles with chemical imbalances, deficiencies in vitamin D, seasonal depression, chronic depression, or anything else that may go by a different name, anyone who has dealt with it will attest to its debilitating and crippling nature.
Research in depression and more specifically, in laughter and depression is alive and well.
One such study brings us to the next health benefit of laughter.
According to “Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review,” “depression is a disease, where neurotransmitters in the brain, such as norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, are reduced, and there is something wrong in the mood control circuit of the brain. Laughter can alter dopamine and serotonin activity.
Furthermore, endorphins secreted by laughter can help when people are uncomfortable or in a depressed mood.” They go on to suggest “laughter therapy” as a strong option in “noninvasive and non-pharmacological treatment.”
Meaning… laughter can actually have altering implications to individuals struggling to rid themselves of the bands of depression!
So whether it be yourself, your child, your friend, or a loved one, keep in mind that keeping things light and funny can do more than simply alter the current mood or atmosphere. No, this study suggests that laughter can go as deep as to help chemically alter the implications taking place behind depression itself.
So laugh it up! And laugh often!
In their review of theory, the authors mentioned above cite the etymology of the word laughter saying, “laughter is gelos in Greek, and the root of this word is Hele, which means Health.” This item gives added strength to the argument that laughter is a force to be reckoned with when looking at improving and aiding health.
This particular study, being a review of existing theories on the subject, also lays out the “categories of laughter” that I referenced above when talking about “simulated laughter.”
This author suggests that there are “five large categories can be summarized from a medical and therapeutic point of view:
- Genuine or spontaneous laughter
- Simulated laughter
- Stimulated laughter
- Induced laughter
- Pathological laughter
While most of these are rather self-explanatory, please see the article for further clarification.
I list the categories here to give you options. There are different ways to inspire laughter, and on top of it, we all have a different sense of humor. So get creative with the funny.
7. Positively Influences Physiological Outcomes
Moving forward, the same article referenced goes into another point influenced by laughter, that there are positive influences on physiological aspects of our body.
The physiological items are as follows:
- Exercises and relaxes muscles
- Improves respiration
- Stimulates circulation
- Decreases stress hormones
- Increases the immune system’s defenses
- Elevates pain threshold and tolerance
- Enhances mental functioning
While there is some overlap with the list they provide and the benefits I am listing here, the point is clear that there are measurable positive responses from laughter.
Not cited by any of the articles, but simply matter of fact, many of these elements could then in turn help with nervousness in front of people, communication apprehension (stage fright), sport psychology, and much more!
They go on to list eight benefits in the psychological sphere, of which some support what we have already mentioned and others we will mention hereafter. They are:
- Reduces stress, anxiety, and tension, and counteracts symptoms of depression
- Elevates mood, self-esteem, hope, energy, and vigor
- Enhances memory, creative thinking, and problem solving
- Improves interpersonal interaction, relationships, attraction, and closeness
- Increases friendliness and helpfulness and builds group identity, solidarity, and cohesiveness
- Promotes psychological well-being
- Improves quality of life and patient care
- Intensifies mirth and is contagious
8. Aids in Relaxation & Sleep
Not only could we always use more sleep, but to be able to have more quality relaxation is key to so many more health benefits.
Often people live day after day waiting for something. Whether it is the weekend, or that promotion, maybe a special someone, or to finally buy your dream home.
However, what we’re beginning to notice is the “weekend warriors” (if you will) live the rest of the week (month/year) waiting for that “Friday at 5” moment, to go home and “relax.” When we just have that thing, or are in that place in life, we can “lighten up.”
We finally get to that moment (the weekend) and in place of relaxing or lightening up, we cram every little thing in we can think of, maybe that we neglected during “the week” and then don’t end up slowing down ever.
In other words we rush through our goals to “save time,” and then with that saved time we overbook the next “goals.”
While for some this theory sounds good, in reality it means many of our goals never get met, and we never rest—always worried about not achieving the goal. It’s a bit of a complex phenomena to articulate in one paragraph. The point is, we let years, friends, families, and opportunities go by simply because we can’t learn and practice relaxing.
What this means is that we fail to rest, and we fail to rest well. We don’t allow ourselves quality time to recoup and set up for the things coming up.
Many of us use that time we waited so impatiently for, to simply worry about the upcoming week. It’s quite ridiculous. Living in the moment is a solid way around this phenomena. And apparently laughter is a big friend to living in the moment.
In short, laughter may be the key that can give sleep to the restless.
While the article Give Your Body a Boost—With Laughter supports many of the items we’ve already discussed, they bring up this particular benefit that no one else in my research had.
They raise a point based off a personal experience of an individual who was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful spine condition, who found solace in the sleep that he could muster after a good laugh. Read the article for more info.
In essence they conclude that laughter not only supports rest and relaxation, but can help people fall asleep, and have more quality sleep when they do.
9. Supports Immune Function
While researchers’ results in “The Effect of Mirthful Laughter on Stress and Natural Killer Cell Activity” did not support an all out claim that laughter had a direct relationship with NK cell activity, they did conclude that “laughter can make one feel better, and therefore might help one recover.”
They too cited previous work in laughter and stress reduction or “self-healing” and the existing literature on effects of humor on immune function and were able to support the claim that there are negative effects of stress upon the immune function.
So whether we take this at face value or with a grain of salt, one may be able to say that because of the clear reduction of stress, there are bi-products such as the support of the immune function that may also result from “mirthful laughter.”
Laughter seems to present some solid statistics on supporting a healthy lifestyle. It would seem that the more that researchers delve into the subject the more bi-products and additional health benefits we may find.
That said, almost every one of the aforementioned articles touched on the increased use of laughter programs in hospitals, physical therapy, and recovery centers all around the world.
10. Elevates Pain Threshold
And last, but certainly not least, in the article “Social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold,” we learn of the correlation between laughter and the threshold of pain the human body can feel.
In their discussion, researchers suggest that “although laughter plays an important role in regulating conversation in humans, it may also play a significant role in facilitating social bonding.”
Amidst several other nonverbal communication aspects discussed as a result of laughter, they claim, “the results show that pain thresholds are significantly higher after laughter than in the control condition.”
Again, when in reference to patients in a nursing home, we can easily find value in the practice of laughter or certain laughter therapies. Why not help a human being live more comfortably and with less pain, right?
But, if we can surely incorporate such practice for those struggling in nursing homes, how could we not be completely willing to do so for ourselves or others around us who need said comfort and ability to cope with pain.
The point I hoped to make is that there are good reasons to laugh. And there are many.
When evaluating the route to a healthy balanced lifestyle, in all your plans for working out, controlled diets, and other healthy practices, do not forget to take the time to enjoy relationships and laugh with those around you. You may find the following links also helpful in your own study of laughter and the benefits it can have on your health.
While I have touched on many of the most popular discoveries in this field, there is much more out there than what I have compiled here. Laughter therapy, laughter yoga, and other new practices involving laughter are growing. And there is ample information available to you if you’re looking to research this concept further.
Now that you know laughter is worth your time to include in your daily routine, here are some ways you may contemplate on how to now include laughter more in your day to day.
Life Hacks: How to Increase Humor in Your Life
Mindfulness is a buzzword in the health community right now. It’s the ability to be present, to let thoughts come and go without judgment or criticism.
“It’s six o’clock on Saturday” comes into mind, and it’s just that, not what you have the upcoming week, or how quickly your weekend is going away. Mindfulness is much more, but suffice it to say it is the ability to live in the moment, and cast away strength.
For many of us, this will take practice. You may find yourself scheduling in time to be mindful each day, until it becomes more natural to do so without thinking.
Go home to play with your kids, take long walks without a watch, “unplug” from your devices. And finally be prepared and proactive enough to know in the deepest part of your mind.
You can afford to live in the moment without consequences of missing meetings or showing up somewhere unprepared. In doing this you will find not only are you enjoying the punchlines more, but you will begin to recognize the little joys in your life that will always make you smile.
2. Subscribe to a Funny Blog/ YouTube Channel/Follow on Social Media
So, you’ve stumbled across a writer who “speaks to you” and you’ve found that when you read their work you may chuckle to yourself lightly, or blatantly laugh out loud. Subscribe to their newsletter, or sign up for notifications to make it constant, and then look forward to that time as an opportunity to laugh a little in your busy day.
You may find some of these links useful if you’re looking to add some laughter in your routine.
Whatever your sense of humor sounds like, find something that resonates with it, and keep it in your life. Find the joy in sharing videos and creative content with your friends and family, and watch as sharing laughter becomes fundamental and natural.
3. Laughter Looks Different to Everyone
Some of us find ourselves easily stimulated with situations around us, while others only find that there are select moments that will cause them to laugh under their breath.
Knowledge is power. Experiment a little and find ways to incorporate aspects in your life that resonate with your sense of humor.
Turn to family. You’ll find that the people who find the same things funny as you are the people you’ve spent a lot of time with,
Be sure to comment below on ways that you incorporate laughter in your day to day. Tell us about some of your favorite April Fools’ Day pranks. Add links to other funny videos. But most of all, tell us how laughter has benefited your health!