Laughter is a curious thing. Some people laugh when something is funny. Some people laugh when things are awkward or uncomfortable. Some people even laugh when angry. It’s such a significant event in our lives that the English language has numerous words for this action. Here are but a few: chuckle, giggle, snicker, snort, snigger, guffaw, titter, chortle, cackle, and even acronyms like lol and lmao.
So, what is this thing? What is its purpose? And can it really assist us with health?
Succinctly put, laughter is a physiological response to stimuli. Most commonly, it presents as a series of rhythmic, staccato sounds.
As to the purpose of laughter, examining research from the Mayo Clinic, the National Library of Medicine, and a few others (see links below.) There are several reasons that laughter is a universal experience:
How often do you share with friends/family/coworkers a funny experience that happened to you? Or how often do you find yourself laughing at the stories/actions of others? Have you ever excitedly described a hilarious comedian, a recently watched comedy movie, and/or a television episode that made you laugh? These shared experiences build connections and shared memories, in other words, social bonding.
The National Institutes of Health, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, states, “Your social ties with family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and others impact your mental, emotional, and even physical well-being.” “Building Social Bonds”
Self-soothing is used to regulate emotional states such as anxiety, fear, and confusion. Most people engage in self-soothing by engaging in pleasant and comforting activities. Laughing certainly qualifies as pleasant and comforting.
Laughter is contagious in the best way possible. Even faking a laugh can lead to genuine belly laughs. Try it, start laughing, and keep laughing for a few minutes. Soon, you may find the laughter becoming genuine. If you really want a great laugh, do this with another person. Watch how quickly you start genuinely laughing. Alone or with others, the good feeling from laughing is a healthy way to be calm and uplift your mood.
So, how can laughter help with our health?
“Always laugh when you can; it is cheap medicine.”
When a person laughs, several physiological events occur—muscles, organs, the brain, and the nervous system become active. Muscles of the face contract and release to create various expressions—smiling, moving the eyebrows, opening the mouth. In addition to muscular engagement, the lungs intake air, the diaphragm expels the air, and the vocal cords create sound. Concurrently, the brain releases endorphins and neurotransmitters directly related to depression. Not to be outdone, the nervous system relaxes the stress response—decreasing heart rate and blood pressure. Yes, the entire body is engaged when we laugh.
As the old saying goes: “Laughter is the best medicine!”
While it’s not the cure for every ill, in the long term, laughter improves the immune system, relieves pain, increases mental health, and much more. Maybe it is the “magic pill” we’ve all been searching for!
Here are a couple of classic videos to get you started on your road to good health!
A few research links:
NLM/NCBI “Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27439375/
The Mayo Clinic “Stress Relief from Laughter? It’s No Joke” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456
“How Laughter Works” https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/laughter1.htm
US Dept. of Veterans Affairs “The Healing Benefits of Humor and Laughter.” https://www.va.gov/WHOLEHEALTHLIBRARY/tools/healing-benefits-humor-laughter.asp