Hopefully, we’ve all had the chance to experience belly-clutching, tear-jerking laughter. Perhaps we’ve been in a room with friends and the hilarity was so contagious that the laughter turned to silent wheezing. We typically feel great when in these moments. In this article, we explore the emotional, physical, and social benefits of cracking up with our pals.
Laughter Reduces Stress
Stress can reduce our immune system’s ability to do its job. This can lead to increased blood platelets (responsible for helping the body control bleeding), which can cause artery blockage. In “fight or flight” mode (aka stress response), our body releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate and causes blood vessels to tighten. This allows blood to be pumped to our core; vital organs receive additional oxygen to prepare for challenges.
However, this response also raises blood pressure. While a stress response is useful for life-threatening situations, it can also be triggered by factors in our increasingly demanding world. Continuous high blood pressure may lead to heart problems, vision issues, sexual dysfunction, kidney damage, and other health concerns.
Laughter has been found to reverse or lessen our body’s stress response. It can decrease our cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) levels. Laughter may also help the brain release chemicals responsible for feeling well. These include serotonin, responsible for mood regulation, and dopamine. Dopamine acts as a “reward” for the brain and makes us feel happy or excited. Also, having a good chuckle releases endorphins, which help reduce stress and increases pleasure.
Laughter Boosts the Immune System
Laughter may also help boost our immune system. It has the potential to increase natural killer cells. These cells help control tumors and certain infections from spreading to neighboring tissue. Hardy, frequent laughter may increase proteins that help regulate the immune system. Laughter also increases immunoglobulin A, a part of the immune system found in saliva. It helps protect us against nose, throat, and lung infections.
Laughter Increases Physical Wellbeing
Laughter is comparable to a short, moderate workout. One hundred strong laughs are like approximately 15 minutes of light cardio. When we laugh, we activate many muscles, like our abdominal wall, back, diaphragm and face. This explains why we sometimes feel tired and sore after a long laughing session. Also, it helps us take in loads of oxygen, which provides energy and increases the capacity of our heart and lungs.
Another benefit is muscle relaxation. After we’ve laughed ourselves silly, our muscles become less tense. This reduction in tension can last for up to 45 minutes. As mentioned, laughing also causes the brain to release endorphins. Not only do they lessen stress, but they also reduce physical pain.
Laughter Builds Social Connection
Some researchers believe that we laugh to build and strengthen social connections. Typically, humans laugh when we feel relaxed and safe to express ourselves. Laughter begets bonding, as well as more laughter. Meaning, the more we laugh, the more we feel connected to others and vice versa. This also explains why laughter is commonly contagious. Humans are far more likely to laugh in a social setting than by ourselves (provided we don’t have humorous stimuli, like a sit-com).
Because laughter is good at reducing tension, it can be helpful for navigating disagreements. Before doing so, it’s important to make sure the other person is comfortable. If we want to make a joke, we need to consider if the other person will appreciate it. If not, we should avoid it; it may be hurtful or invalidating.
Also, using humor to avoid our true feelings is a no-no. If we feel hurt or scared, we should express it rather than burying it under a joke. Signs that we are hiding behind humor include:
- Joking at someone’s expense, or trying to hurt them
- Constantly putting ourselves down, or being the butt of our own jokes
- Always joking around, even in serious situations where it’s inappropriate
When we laugh, we feel good. We feel connected and comfortable, and stress doesn’t overwhelm us. It can be exactly what we need to pull ourselves out of a rut. So, laugh loudly and often, and maybe even live longer!