The Medicine of Laughter
If you were a dog, your ears would be standing straight up like soldiers at attention. Your back is against the wall in the dim hallway as you listen to the quiet pitter-patter of toddler feet around the corner. As her steps approach your hiding spot, you burst forth and gleefully shout, “Boo!”
After the initial moment of fright, the small child can’t contain her laughter. She howls, giggles, and loses all self control—and you do too!
Children have the ability to abandon all pretenses for a jolly belly laugh. Adults, on the other hand, have been cautioned by life against laughing so flippantly. But there’s a deeper truth to laughter: it’s beneficial to all and harmful to none. Just like we have thirty minutes of exercise per day or a few minutes soaking up Vitamin D from the sunshine, why don’t we also include a daily dose of laughter?
In reality, laughter is just a puff of air combined with the vibrations of our vocal chords. We chuckle at a silly joke, howl at funny videos, say a little “ha ha” when we are nervous, and even laugh when we are overcome with fear.
It’s intuitive, automatic, and ingrained in our nature. Even infants who are both blind and death know how to laugh. But it’s more than just air and noise, right?
The medicine of laughter
Laughter has no harmful side effects—minus the pleasantly dull ache in your abdomen after you’ve laughed so hard that you’ve started crying. In fact, it’s beneficial for every single human being (and a few animals too). And, just like our anecdote displayed, it’s highly contagious.
Here’s what the scientists have to say:
- Laughter releases endorphins. When you laugh with other people, the opioid receptors in your brain release endorphins, also known as the feel-good chemicals. Addictive drugs like heroin also bind to those same opioid receptors, which explains why laughter is euphoric.
- Laughter releases serotonin. Serotonin is the brain chemical targeted by antidepressants. And laughter acts like a natural antidepressant, although it’s unclear how long the effects linger.
- Laughter is contagious. Not like germs or viruses, but through endorphins. People who laugh together feel more connected to one another.
- Laughter helps you relax. Well, first it causes your heart rate and breathing rate to increase, then your muscles relax, and then your heart rate and breathing rate reduce again. The result: relaxation.
- Laughter is attractive. Women laugh more than men, although men usually instigate laughter. Women say a sense of humor is one of the top qualities they search for in a man, while men prefer women who laugh a lot.
- Laughter boosts relationships. Couples who laugh together have higher-quality relationships.
- Laughter makes you feel better. Hearing a hearty “ha ha” uplifts your mood.
- Laughter helps you sleep. Geriatric patients who participated in laughter therapy showed significant improvements in sleep quality and a decline in insomnia.
- Laughter boosts the quality of life for COPD patients. This one is kind of bittersweet: watching a humorous video boosted COPD patients quality of life, although it did irritate their lungs.
- Laughter is an anti-inflammatory. While scientists are still researching the fine details, they do agree that a good giggle reduces inflammation, which happens to also protect your heart muscles and blood vessels.
- Laughter keeps your heart healthy. Study participants who watched a comedy movie had healthier arteries for the 24 hours following the film.
- No really, laughter is good for your heart. People who don’t laugh are 21% more likely to have heart disease or 60% more likely to have a stroke than individuals who laugh daily.
Additional research has even shown that geriatrics, rehabilitation, hospice, psychiatry, oncology, rheumatology, and general patient care benefit from the medicine of laughter too.
This topic of research isn’t widespread, although we don’t need the professionals to explain what we already know: it just feels good to laugh! It’s the medicine for our bodies, hearts, and souls.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to laugh!
Make yourself laugh
I know that it’s impossible to tickle yourself. And it might feel crazy to force out a stale chuckle. But here’s the reality: fake laughter eventually turns into real laughter.
Start with a few deep breaths. Yoga or stretching might help as well. Force yourself to laugh. Realize how silly you sound, but don’t give up. Keep laughing. Don’t stop those giggles. Then all of a sudden—ha! You’re genuinely laughing, with your abs contracted and a smile gleaming on your face.
I bet you think I’m crazy. But there is actually a study to back this up! Six individuals participated in ten laughter yoga classes. The results were authentic laughter, elevated mood, a more friendly disposition, a healthier heart, and lessoned long-term anxiety.
I’ll spare you my best knock-knock jokes (taken from my favorite joke book when I was nine years old), dad jokes (compliments to my husband), and childhood riddles (told by my slew of elementary-aged nieces and nephews). I also won’t recommend my favorite comedy movies (although Couples Retreat and The Proposal are noteworthy mentions).
- Browse the internet for a hearty joke of the day.
- Buy popsicles and read the jokes on the wooden stick.
- Browse a joke book at your local library or bookstore.
- Watch a funny movie with your family.
- Search YouTube for silly video clips. (Hint: “people walking into glass doors” is a popular search topic)
- Reminisce over old photos or year books.
- Or engage in your very own session of “fake laughter.”
Need someone to laugh with?
The joy of laughter is helpful, but it’s not meant to replace medicine or therapy. If stress, anxiety, depression, or clinical health concerns are a barrier to laughter, we can help.
We can laugh together, but we can also counsel you through your particular situation!
Call us today.
Clinical Director and Co-Owner at Redeemed Life Counseling