I went away with friends recently and laughed and laughed and laughed. I laughed until my stomach hurt and tears rolled down my cheeks. And even though I’d been burning the candle at both ends – I came home feeling happier and lighter than I had done in a long time. It turns out laughter really is the best medicine and studies show it benefits almost every area of our lives.
Why laughter really is the best medicine
Laughing makes us happy
Laughing releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals inside our brains. Researchers from the University of Turku, Finland measured the ‘endorphin rush’. They studied 12 healthy men to see the after-effects of watching 30 minutes of comedy clips together. They found social laughter caused pleasurable feelings and significantly boosted endorphins and other opioid peptides in the brain.
Laughter is Contagious
Research has shown laughter really is contagious. Scientists played a series of sounds to participants to see how they responded to positive or negative sounds. They tested the movement of facial muscles afterwards. The study found that people tended to smile when they heard laughter.
Laughter helps create long-lasting relationships
Laura Kurtz, a social psychologist from the University of North Carolina investigated how much shared laughter influences the success of a relationship. She studied 77 heterosexual pairs (154 people total) who had been in a relationship for an average of 4 years and did video recordings of them recalling how they first met. The couples who laughed more together in the videos reported having happier relationships.
Laughter boosts our immune systems
A study by Indiana State University Sycamore Nursing Cente divided 33 women into two groups: one watched funny videos and the other a video on tourism. They found the funny video group reported a significant decrease in stress and their natural killer cell levels were significantly higher than those who watched the other video.
Laughter acts as pain relief
Scientists at Oxford University looked at if laughter helped with pain relief. Participants watched funny video clips and a live comedy show during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Participants were tested in groups and alone. They were then asked to take part in pain tests until they said they couldn’t take anymore. The study revealed that laughter considerably increased participants’ ability to tolerate pain – particularly when they were in a group. Turns out laughter actually is the best medicine.
Laughter looks after your heart
It also helps to look after your heart. The University of Maryland examined the circulation in the blood vessels after watching different types of films. One group watched stressful segments from the war film ‘Saving Private Ryan,” whilst the others watched parts of comedy ‘Something About Mary’. Scientists found that the blood vessel lining constricted and circulation decreased in those who watched ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Whereas for the vessel lining dilated and circulation increased for those watching the comedy.
Laughter can help with depression
Italian researchers found that laughter appears to stimulate brain regions involved in depression and mediating stress. Their study, published in 2010, also noted that both the immune system and social relationships can be strengthened by laughter, leaving individuals more able to cope with their mood disorder.
Laughter increases resilience
Being able to laugh at our shortcomings and failures has a positive impact on our resilience (the ability to overcome negative situations). Scientists asked 201 pairs of North American adult twins to complete a questionnaire on two positive (affiliative, self-enhancing) and two negative (aggressive, self-defeating) humour styles. Participants also were asked about how they felt about eight mental toughness factors: commitment, control, emotional control, control over own life, confidence, confidence in own abilities, interpersonal confidence, and challenge. Positive correlations were found between the positive humour styles and all of the mental toughness factors.
Ways to increase laughter in your life
- spend time with people who make you laugh
- watch comedies or read books which you know will make you laugh out loud
- put yourself in social situations which involve laughing. Go to the cinema to watch a funny film or a comedy. night. Even if you’re on your own, being around other people who are laughing will still hugely impact on your wellbeing.