I love to laugh. I love to listen to others laugh. I find myself drawn to people who are fun, jokesters, and thinking about friendly shenanigans. I have one friend whose laugh is contagious and it is almost impossible to be in the room with her without laughing at her laugh. My curiosity piqued to investigate the link between laughing and our emotional health. After all, you’ve likely heard the expression ‘laughter is the best medicine’.
So does laughter have an effect on mood and emotional health? The science says yes! David DiSalvo has research on laughing and its effects on the brain. He listed six science based reasons why laughter is the best medicine in his published article (DeSalvo, David. Six Science-Bases Reasons Why Laughter is the Best Medicine. Forbes. June 5, 2017.) Here are his six reasons:
- Laughter is a potent endorphin releaser. Laughter releases the endorphins in our brains that induces euphoria not unlike a narcotic (without the obvious drawbacks). The more receptors we have in our brain the better we feel.
- Laughter contagiously forms social bonds. Social laughter is contagious. In this season of numerous viruses, it is nice to spread something that feels good and doesn’t require any sick leave. Think of this as a contagion effect or a game of endorphin release dominoes where it spreads to each receptor that it contaminates. This explains why when my friend laughs the whole room starts laughing as well.
- Laughter fosters brain connectivity. Our brains are able to differentiate the types of laugh. Our brain goes on high alert when it recognizes a laugh and works to decipher the type (joyous laughter, taunting laughter, tickling laughter) and then to help us with the correct response.
- Laughter is central to relationships. This tidbit was interesting to learn. Women laugh about 126% more than their male counterparts, while men instigate laughter more often. Women tend to rate humor as a top-three trait in a potential mate and men tend to rate women who laugh a lot higher than those who don’t. Couples who laugh together have strong resiliency and bonds.
- Laughter has an effect similar to antidepressants. Laughter activates the release of serotonin, which is found in the most common types of antidepressants. Serotonin is sometimes known as the happy chemical because it plays a role in regulating our moods. People with depression often have low levels of serotonin. Bursts of laughing, for at least a short period of time, can boost our mood with a similar effect.
- Laughter protects your heart. Laughter lessons the body’s stress responses and has an effect similar to an anti-inflammatory protection of blood vessels, heart muscles, and cardiovascular disease.
If David DiSalvo’s evidence doesn’t convince you then this article full of laughing facts that might be influential. Professor Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist and stand-up comic, put together this list of 10 Fascinating Facts About Laughter article as an added bonus information to our pro-laughter theory.
- Rats Laugh when they are tickled. The more that rats played together the more that they laughed. Do not try this at home as Psychologist Jack Pankseep needed special equipment to detect the high pitched laughs of his rats.
- You’re more likely to laugh around others-Not because of jokes. Dr. Robert Provine had to recreate laughter. He found that reproducing it in the laboratory took away from the genuineness of the laughter. He and his interns took turns randomly attempting to get people to laugh. Their most natural responses came from asking random people to just ‘laugh’. Dr. Provine said this approach elicited bursts of laughter. He summarized that the critical trigger for laughing is another person rather than a joke or a funny movie. In his study, social laughter occurred 30x more frequently than solitary laughter.
- Your brain can detect fake laughter. Dr. Scott’s research has shown that the brain can tell the difference between real and staged laughter. The brain is busy detecting and interpreting different emotions
- Laughter is contagious. Think of the times you have been with a group of people and one laugh can get the entire crew going. Or the effect that a stand-up comedian has on its audience.
- Jokes are funnier if you know the comedian. Since a comedian wrote this article, it stands to reason that her research led people to identify that jokes told by a familiar comedian or person to be funnier than by someone who is unfamiliar.
- Laughing burns calories. If one can laugh for a good 10-15 minutes, up to 40 calories can be burned. Keep in mind that it would have to be a solid hour laugh session to make any meaningful impact, but sounds like the perfect response for a short-term effect.
- Laughing is good for your relationships. Couples who can connect through laughter can increase communication skills and tend to stay together longer. Using laughter and smiles can lead to higher levels of satisfaction in a relationship.
- Laughter requires timing. Laughter follows a pattern. It tends not to occur in the middle of a sentence but waits until a pause in speech or is utilized at the end of a sentence. This infers a neurologically based process that revolves around the interpretation of language.
- Laughter is attractive. Look at dating ads and you will see the importance of a sense of humor by both genders being addressed. Women are often looking for the ‘sense of humor’ and men often describe themselves as humorous. This was studied in Dr. Scott’s research on humor.
- Some things can virtually make everyone laugh. That is the beauty of laughter. One never knows what will strike that funny bone.
Laughter seems to be a benefit for all of us in reducing stressful moments, connecting with others, improving well-being and positive emotions just to name a few. The solution here is easy: treat laughter as you would your diet and exercise regime, and try to get some laughter into your daily routine. Just a few minutes a day can increase your mood, overall health and wellness.
If you are an MSU employee, spouse, or benefits eligible family member of an MSU employee and would like help with overall well-being, please feel free to contact the MSU Employee Assistance Program to schedule a discussion with a licensed professional today. Contact MSU’s EAP at 517-355-4506, or [email protected].
Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash