“Laughter is the best medicine”, we often hear, or “The world lasts because it laughs.” Intuitively we know that laughter is one of the best stress management, brain-enhancing techniques, and surely there is no coincidence when it comes to the fact that men and women are attracted to people, who make them laugh (with their witty sense of humor that is). So, what is laughter? What causes laughter? And most importantly, what are its health benefits and its role in coping with stress.
In the generally accepted definition laughter is an audible expression of joy, happiness, and fun; an inner sense of happiness and pleasure, accompanied by typical facial expressions and even grimaces. It can occur as a psychological reaction to jokes or to a physical touch (tickling). Inhalation of nitric oxide may cause laughter, as well as some drugs, such as marijuana.
Laughter is a part of the human behavior, regulated by the brain. It helps people express more clearly their thoughts, feelings and intentions in a social environment. Laughter gives emotional context of the conversation and serves as a signal that someone is part of a group. As we all know, laughter can often be contagious – the laughter of one can provoke bursts of laughter in others. The study of humor and laughter and their psychological and mental effects on the human body is called gelotology.
When Do We Laugh Our First Laugh?
Recent studies show that even 17 days old babies have been observed to make laughter-like sounds or even get into spontaneous bursts of laughter. Dr. Robert R. Provine, a neurologist and researcher at the University of Maryland (USA) spent decades studying laughter. In an interview with “WebMD” he says, “Laughter is a mechanism that is in each of us. Laughter is a part of everyone’s vocabulary. There are thousands of languages, hundreds of thousands of dialects, but almost everyone ‘ speaks’ the language of laughter in almost the same way. ”
Laughter as a Stress Management Tool and the Science Behind its Impact on the Human Body
Laughter and The Brain
According to modern neurophysiology, laughter activates the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, resulting in the release of endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that are held responsible for feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, as well as agents that block pain. Knowing this, we can more easily understand why laugh therapy courses have become so popular nowadays in helping people cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and even some physical conditions, such as the healing of scars. We’ll talk about the different types of laugh therapy later.
If we have to get even more scientific here, studies provide evidence that bits of the limbic system are engaged in laughter. The limbic system is a special, some call it ‘primitive’ part of the brain, whose activity manages emotions and controls the main activities needed for survival. The elements of this circuit mediate and control the mood and feelings of friendship, love and passion. The middle part of the hypothalamus is identified as the center of the brain, responsible for strong and uncontrolled laughter.
The Heart and Laughter
Studies show that laughter also plays an important role in protecting the heart. Research has demonstrated that psychological stress leads to the destruction of the endothelium (a protective layer of cells on the inner walls of the blood and lymph vessels).
Once damaged, this barrier can induce a number of inflammatory processes that cause accumulation of cholesterol in the coronary arteries. This in turn can lead to a heart attack. The studies of Steve Sultanof (the head of the American Association for Therapeutic Humor) showed that during a strong burst of laughter the hormone cortisol (usually released in stressful situations) is greatly reduced. Laughter also increases the production of antibodies in the body that can help maintain the good condition of the arteries and reduce the chances of a heart attack.
Laughter and Diabetes
Research carried out in Japan demonstrates that laughter decreases blood sugar levels after eating. Keiko Hayashi and his team from the University in Ibaraki Chukuba conducted an experiment with 19 people, suffering from diabetes. On two consecutive days, they took blood samples from the participants 2 hours before and 2 hours after eating.
On the first day after dinner, all participants listened to 40 minutes of a boring lecture. The next day patients viewed a fourty-minute long comedy show. In both cases, blood sugar had increased, but the samples taken after watching the show were significantly lower than those taken on the first, boring day.
The study was repeated with people, who suffer from diabetes, and the results were the same. Scientists have come to the conclusion that laughter is beneficial for diabetics and the hormones produced during this ‘activity’ may compensate for hormonal imbalances diseases.
Laughter and Arthritis
There are numerous studies that confirm the palliative effect of laughter, especially for arthritis, spinal and neurological diseases. It is said that 10 minutes of laughter can provide the patient an additional 2 hours of sleep without pain.
The Immune System and Laughter
It has been shown that stress weakens our immune cells. A number of studies have proven that laughter increases the number of antibodies in humans and strengthens the immune system. In addition to reducing blood pressure, laughter boosts oxygen in the blood, which stimulates healing. All this goes to prove that people, who fall for humor, are rarely sick. Studies have even shown that the children of jolly parents are more unlikely to suffer from respiratory diseases.
Laughter as an Exercise
Scientists have estimated that 100 laughs are equivalent to a ten-minute session on a rowing machine. Laughter effectively exercises the diaphragm, the abs, the respiratory muscles, facial muscles, and the muscles of the legs and back. It is also scientifically shown that laughter can give you a flat belly.
Jarrah Cohen conducted many experiments on and said that “laughter not only helps the heart, but also puts you into a great shape for the summer”. While some people find it hard to believe that something as effortless and enjoyable as laughter can strengthen your abdominal muscles, fourteen out of fifteen patients of Cohen say it is a better and more fun workout than crunches.
Laugh Therapies for Stress Relief
There are many well-documented studies on laughter, which has resulted in the creation of new therapies, used by mental health professionals, doctors, psychiatrists and other s to help patients with emotional, physical, and mental suffering.
Humor therapy uses books, television shows, movies, stories, and other similar materials with the intention of encouraging a natural conversation about entertaining stories from the patients’ lives. Treatment is guided by a specialist.
This therapy is used in certain hospitals. Clowns perform various magic tricks, sing, laugh and sympathize with children. This has shown to improve the relationship between doctors and children; additional positive effects include reduced feelings of pain and heightened stimulation of the immune system of children.
Meditation with Laughter
There are similarities between traditional meditation techniques and meditation with laughter. In the latter, it is laughter that induces the person to enjoy the present moment. This special type of meditation goes through three phases – stretching, laughing and / or crying and a period of silent meditation. During the 1st phase you should strain and stretch your body without laughing.
The second part begins with a smile, which is then slowly transformed into a focused loud laughter or crying, whichever comes first. In the last phase, you should stop laughing or crying, close your eyes, breathe deeply in silence, focusing on the moment. The entire exercise takes approximately 15 minutes.
Read also: 8 Powerful Reasons You Should Try Meditation
Laughter Yoga and Laughter Clubs
Laughter yoga is very much like traditional yoga, and is created by Dr. Madan Katari in 1995 in Bombay. It is a practice that contains breathing exercises, yoga, stretching, and this all is accompanied by laughter. This type of yoga also consists of a few laughter exercises with a duration of about half an hour.
Tips on How to Turn Laughter Into Our Constant Companion
- Set yourself the goal to find something funny even in the most awkward situations. Then go on and tell your friends what happened, with a sense of humor of course!
- If you have to choose between a comedy or an action movie – choose comedy.
- Surround yourself with pictures and objects that you associate with funny memories or situations. In this way, you will have a reason to laugh when your eyes fall on them.
- Even if you are not laughing, try to force yourself into a smile. Even that in itself will make you feel better.
- Hang out with people who have a strong sense of humor and make you relax.
In fact, hanging out with such people makes you become like them, so be careful – from an overly-stressed, grumpy individual you may turn into a much-sought party companion. Are you ready for all the joy that comes with a healthy, stress-free life?