Whether it’s a snerk, a snort, a chuckle, or a full belly laugh, laughter and a sense of humor might keep you healthier than you realize. The more you have a chance to laugh, the greater your ability to promote wellness. Here are some of the reasons why.
Why Is Laughter Important?
Applying science to something as uniquely human as humor is tricky. Author e.b. white once said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” Nevertheless, the study of laughter and its effects has an official name: gelotology.
Usually what tickles your funny bone stems from a complex blend of behavioral, emotional, and social components. This is why humor is so subjective—what one person might find hilarious, another has no reaction to at all or considers it stupid.
The Many Benefits of Laughter
How laughter benefits your mind, body, and spirit has actually been the subject of multiple studies, and the research points to a cascade of positive factors. Laughing prompts the parasympathetic nervous system—the “rest and digest” calming response. When you have a big belly laugh, this activates your diaphragm, which stimulates the vagus nerve, the command center for many essential physiological functions.
The Heart Foundation also states you should find a reason to laugh every day because:
- It increases circulation. Science says that laughter prompts your brain to release beta-endorphins, “which leads to the release of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a powerful chemical that dilates the endothelium, the inner lining of your blood vessels. Nitric oxide also reduces inflammation and prevents the buildup of cholesterol.”
- It’s considered a cardio workout. What? We can laugh watching crazy cat videos, and use the same amount of calories as walking? Plus raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol? That’s the best news we’ve heard all day.
- It boosts your immune system. “Natural killer” or NK cells are white blood cells that attack bacteria and viruses, and they become more active when you laugh.
- It alleviates stress. Laughing reduces the stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol in your body to help manage symptoms of anxiety, depression, pain management, and weight gain.
- It improves respiration. Every big laugh requires longer exhalation, which expands the alveoli—millions of minuscule air sacs—in your lungs, which enhances oxygen flow.
Additionally, these benefits linger for up to 24 hours!
And speaking of tickling, have you ever wondered why you laugh when someone pokes around your stomach, feet, underarms, and other tender bits? Evolutionary biologists state this is actually a primitive defense mechanism! Receptors in your skin send signals to the brain to “dispel a tense situation and prevent us from being hurt.” This might also explain why some people laugh when they’re nervous or uncomfortable.
Research Involving Laughter Therapy
Here’s a fun fact: women laugh more than men—126 percent more! But men often get more laughs than women.
Psychologist and professor Lawrence Ian Reed states in an interview with The Dana Foundation that there are “some universal features to laughter. One is that it’s incredibly difficult to control or feign. Another is that it’s contagious, and that no joke or activity actually needs to occur in order for laughter to happen,” he said. “In fact, it’s so contagious that laugh tracks or canned laughter in TV shows increase the amount that people laugh and how funny they think something is.”
Contagious laughter is one of the principles behind laughter therapy and laughter yoga. You don’t have to be the funniest person in the room to have a rollicking good time and reap the benefits of a hearty guffaw! Medical and academic professionals have studied this since the 1960s. Here are a few examples:
- Peter McGraw’s humor research at the University of Colorado Boulder and the HuRL Institute (Humor Research Lab) works with various people to explore the effects of the Benign Violation Theory—a way to explain “humorous responses to a broad range of situations.”
- Since 1980, immunologist Lee Berk at Loma Linda University’s School of Allied Health and Medicine has researched how laughter helps regulate hormones, particularly stress hormones, and discovered the link “between laughter and the production of antibodies and endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers.” He’s also studied the positive effects of laughter on “gamma brain frequencies, which coordinate neuron activity.” Improved brain health might be one reason why more frequent laughter may help people in recovery.
- Patients at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America follow a “laughter prescription” as part of their wellness schedule.
Get Your Giggle On
Here’s another fun fact: your body doesn’t know the difference between laughing at something humorous and a fake physical laugh. You experience the same physiological effects either way. So if you’re in need of some daily chuckles, here are some exercises to try. Yes, you might feel a little goofy at first—or even a lot! But there are few holistic recovery options like this that provide such comprehensive benefits.
- Download a laughter start kit from Laughter Online University, complete with facts about laughter therapy, “laughter hacks,” and oodles of laughter techniques and exercises.
- Join in a weekly free Laughter Yoga Zoom session with founder Dr. Madan Kataria. No yoga mat required—just an open mind and a lot of smiles.
- Try this 10-minute “laugh along” video led by mindfulness expert Robert Rivest. If you like his approach, chuckle along with a lot of people!
- Make time in your daily routine to read the comics, listen to a funny podcast, or watch a comedy show or movie. After you start laughing, your body and mind will be calm and uplifted. Then, you’ll have a better disposition to use other recovery tools learned in addiction treatment to continue your progress.
More Healthful Resources for You
Twin Lakes Recovery Center is dedicated to providing you with the resources you need to live a healthy and fulfilled life. Review our many blog posts to learn about many aspects of good self-care.
- The Importance of Laughter. NRC Health.
- The Humor Research Library. Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.