Hold on one second while I dig into my “Giant Bag of Cliches that Make for Interesting Conversations”… Oh, Here it is: “Laughter Is The Best Medicine”. In my opinion laughter is one of the most essential aspects of life, not only for happiness, but also for health.
In a casual conversation with a buddy of mine, he said something to the effect of “laughing makes you happier”, to which I immediately said “Yeah, and water makes you a lot wetter, thank you for the stunning affirmation of your superior intelligence.” I got a fairly sharp glare in return, as my buddy continued, “No, I mean laughing regularly, makes you happier overall. It’s like a ratio – laughter:happiness.”
Now I was never a math guy, so the word “ratio” by itself made me a little uneasy, but I got what he was saying. I’d be willing to bet that someone who laughs 5 times an hour is inherently happier than someone who laughs 1 time an hour.
Someone who laughs 7 times an hour is just a crazy person, though – watch out for that guy.
But how much does laughing really effect someone? I turned to my good friend, science, to find out exactly what laughter does for us mere mortals, and I was actually surprised to find out exactly how beneficial the simple act of laughter can be.
Why We All Need To Laugh More
1. Laughing Helps Your Blood Vessels
In 2005, scientists from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore found that laughter is actually related to healthy function of blood vessels.
According to the study: “The study included a group of 20 non-smoking, healthy volunteers, equally divided between men and women, whose average age was 33. The participants had normal blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Each volunteer was shown part of two movies at the extreme ends of the emotional spectrum. They were randomized to first watch either a movie that would cause mental stress, such as the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan” (DreamWorks, 1998), or a segment of a movie that would cause laughter, such as “King Pin” (MGM, 1996). A minimum of 48 hours later, they were shown a movie intended to produce the opposite emotional extreme.”
What they found was that laughter appears to cause the tissue in the inner lining of blood vessels, the endothelium, to dilate or expand in order to increase blood flow. The researchers also found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.
“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,” said principal investigator Michael Miller, M.D., director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center in a news release. “At the very least, laughter offsets the impact of mental stress, which is harmful to the endothelium.”
2. Laughing Makes You Emotionally Healthy
In the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute Letter from Spring of 2010 the effects of laughter were discussed on everything from teenager’s brains, to laughter’s effects on addiction. When we laugh our brains release a series of chemicals like dopamine, which helps the brain to process emotional responses and enhances the experience of pleasure; serotonin, which lifts moods; and endorphins which regulate pain and stress and induces euphoria.
To take a little less scientific approach here, I can personally say that laughter for me is both a sword and a shield. In the hardest times in my life, I’ve always laughed. I remember laying in a hospital bed listening to a doctor ramble on about how close I had come to dying, and I was just lying there cracking jokes. It wasn’t because I didn’t understand the severity of the situation, but because if I didn’t laugh, I would have cried. Not that there is anything wrong with crying, but let’s face it – no one wants a tear in their beard.
3. Laughing Helps You Interact Socially and Bond
Amazing factoid of the day that you’d never considered before: Laughter has been around in humans way longer than speech. The way that my brain works; when I read that for the first time, I just pictured of a couple of cavemen doing cavemen stuff, and one gets hit in the cavejunk (balls). As he falls to the ground holding his cavejunk, the other caveman just laughs his caveman ass off. America’s Funniest Home Videos has PROVEN that people getting hit with stuff in the crotch is hilarious.
So if laughter is an instinctual hold-over from our lesser-evolved days, it’s an easy assumption that it has a lot to do with social bonding.
Now if you want a really in-depth, very, very sciencey explanation of this theory, I suggest you read The Bonds of Laughter: A Multidisciplinary Inquiry into the Information Processes of Human Laughter by Pedro C. Marijuán and Jorge Navarro from the Bioinformation and Systems Biology Group at the Instituto Aragonés de Ciencias de la Salud in Spain. The study set out to show that laughter is “far from being a curious evolutionary relic or a rather trivial innate behavior, [and] should be considered as a highly efficient tool for inter-individual problem solving and for maintenance of social bonds.”
4. Laughing Makes You Pretty
I would be deemed the “King of the Naive” if I didn’t think that my sense of humor has the biggest impact on my love life of any of my other personal attributes. Sure, the blue eyes and beard don’t hurt, but if I can make a woman laugh, I’ve got a good chance of eventually wooing her.
Eric Bressler, a graduate student at McMaster University is working on proving my theory. He discovered in a survey of 150 students that to a woman, “sense of humor” means someone who makes her laugh; to a man, a sense of humor means someone who appreciates his jokes. According to Eric, “There’s a difference between producers (those who make you laugh) and receptors (those who laugh when someone cracks a joke). Women choose men who produce humor 62% of the time; conversely, men choose women who appreciate their humor 65% of the time.”
You heard it here, ladies – laughing at his jokes (no matter how dumb they are) makes you more attractive.
5. Laughing Destroys Anxiety
A really cool study that I read tested the effects of laughter on anxiety, and ultimately personal performance. According to their report: “The purpose of this study was to increase positive humour as a strategy for reducing participants’ levels of anxiety. To this end, 31 volunteer students were selected and given a test of perceptual speed to generate stress response (anxiety). Subsequently, participants were exposed to a comedy video of about 25 minutes’ duration (made specifically for this study).State-anxiety levels were assessed three times: at the beginning of the study (baseline), after the perceptual speed test and after watching the humorous video. Personality variables and level of dispositional optimism were also measured. The results indicate a statistically significant decrease in state-anxiety levels after viewing the comedy video. We also found that those participants with higher levels of dispositional optimism had lower levels of state-anxiety after viewing the comedy video, and scored lower on neuroticism and higher on extraversion. Statistically significant positive correlations were also found between neuroticism and state-anxiety. Furthermore, the results indicate that those with higher levels of anxiety at baseline were not those with the poorest performance on the perceptual speed test.”
Now if laughter reduces anxiety, and therefore reduces stress, it can be said again that laughing makes you healthier.
6. Laughing Helps Your Lungs
This benefit of laughter was one that when you think about it makes total sense, even if you never considered it before. A good old fashioned belly laugh is great for your entire respiratory system. It’s simple” More Laughter = More Oxygen. Oxygen is one of the primary catalysts for biological energy in the human body, so more of it is a good thing. “Deep breathing techniques which increase oxygen to the cell are the most important factors in living a disease-free and energetic life… Remember: where cells get enough oxygen, cancer will not, cannot occur.” – Dr. Otto Warburg, the only person to ever win the Nobel Prize twice in medicine, and he was nominated for a third.
Related: Proof that Laughter is Contagious
Think about it this way: Have you ever noticed that when you laugh really hard that you cough or sputter? That is because you are literally expanding your lungs and loosening up phlegm or whatever might be in there, and rejuvenating your lungs. Makes sense right? That’s why deep breathing techniques associated with yoga have lead to the development of laughter yoga.