Written by Stannah at 26-02-2019
What happens to us when we start laughing? Why do we feel so good when we do, and what benefits does a good attack of the giggles have for our bodies and minds? Today, on International Day of Happiness, we’re going to find out!
Test your own laughing potential with our laughter test in this article, learn why laughing is of utmost importance for us humans and how laughing regularly can even improve our balance (which is great for fall prevention). We’ve also included some jokes to get you started on your way to healing with laughter – or simply to provide you with some funny material for your next social event.
Join us on a journey that will definitely put a smile on your face!
The Power of Laughter and the Science behind it
It’s probably safe to say that we all heard things like “It’s better to laugh than to cry” or “come on, turn that frown upside down” growing up. But what is the science behind the benefits of laughter? We do feel better when we start to laugh or when we make someone else laugh? Something must be happening in our little grey cells. But what?
Robert Provine, Ph.D. is a neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore in the US. He specializes in the development and evolution of the nervous system and behaviour including human social behaviour. “Laughter is far from mere reactions to jokes, they’re innate and important social tools”, says the Professor. After 10 years of researching the science behind laughter, Professor Provine can make the following conclusion:
“Laughter is primarily a social vocalization that binds people together. It is a hidden language that we all speak. It is not a learned group reaction but an instinctive behaviour programmed by our genes. Laughter bonds us through humor and play.”
His research also shows that laughter is very difficult to control consciously, which suggests that we do not have the ability to deliberately activate the brain’s mechanism to affective expression. What marks the social settings for more laughs is playfulness – being in a group and having a positive emotional mark. The fact that laughing is contagious is tied to the neurological mechanism of laugh detection, which implies that humans have an auditory laugh detector, a neutral circuit that causes us in turn to produce laughter. Hence the important social aspect when it comes to having a good laugh.
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”
The Power of Laughter
Let’s take a look at some concrete benefits laughter has on our bodies and minds:
- Endorphins; are a group of hormones in our brain with several physiological functions that active our opiate receptors causing an analgesic effect. Recent studies show that especially social laughter releases endorphins in our brains. Therefore, laughing with other people releases endorphins via opioid receptors. Drugs like heroine also bind to those receptors, indicating that laughing in a social context produces euphoria like the feeling that drugs give us!
- Antidepressants: Research shows that laughing generates the release of neurotransmitter Serotonin. That’s the same brain chemical affected by most common types of antidepressants. Even though this release is potent, scientists do not know how long the effect lasts.
- Heart protection: It has been said that laughter has an anti-inflammatory effect which provides protection to heart muscles and blood vessels. Even though we do not know if this is completely true, it doesn’t hurt us, that’s for sure!
- Abdominal muscles: When you’re laughing, the muscles in your belly expand and contract. That’s why many people hold on to their stomachs when they’re caught in a laughing fit! We will look at this aspect in more detail further down the article.
- Lowers stress levels: laughing can significantly reduce the level of stress hormones, making you feel more relaxed and setting all the benefits that are related to low stress in motion. We will also look at this in more depth further down the article.
“I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.”
Before we continue to look at all the benefits laughing has for us humans, (especially when it comes to reducing stress) we want to invite you to look at the video below. Before you do, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I feel stressed right now? If the answer is yes, did your mood change once you’d seen the video?
- Is laughing really contagious? Did the video make you laugh?
- Can you feel your abs now? How about after watching the video?
- Do you feel happier than you did before watching the video?
Preferably watch until the end of the video, but if you’re pressed for time at least watch the first minute – trust us!
So? Did you pee your pants? If you do feel better (let’s face it, it’s very likely you do, especially after watching the last lady in the video) maybe what we discuss below is something you’d enjoy.
Laughter Yoga Therapy
Stress is one of those silent “evildoers” that can do a lot of damage to a person’s body and mind if they’re not careful. Whether you suffer from acute or chronic stress, both should be addressed as soon as possible, as it can result in anxiety and depression and affect almost all your body systems (the heart and blood vessels, immune system, lungs, digestive system, sensory organs, and brain). The effects can be especially bad for seniors as our bodies aren’t as resilient as they used to be once we get to our golden years. So, how can laughter help us with reducing our stress levels?
“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.”
According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre, we should use humour!
“Research has shown that humour is a very effective mechanism for coping with acute stress. Keeping a sense of humour during difficult situations is a common recommendation of stress management experts. Laughter not only releases the tension of pent-up feelings and helps a person maintain perspective, but it also appears to have actual physical effects that reduce stress hormone levels. It is not uncommon for people to laugh intensely during tragic events, such as the death of a loved one, because this laughter helps them endure the emotional pain of the experience.”
Let’s sum up the benefits humour, or laughing, hold for us in relation to stress:
- Laugher releases the tension of pent-up feelings
- They help a person maintain perspective
- They have actual physical effects that reduce stress hormone levels
- Laughter helps endure the emotional pain of a tragic event
Now, it can be difficult to just stop stressing and start laughing! Especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all. Fortunately, there are lots of things out there that can help, for example, laughter therapy or laughter Yoga therapy.
What is Laughter Yoga Therapy?
Wikipedia gives the following definition: “(Hasyayoga) is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. Laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughter yoga is done in groups, with eye contact, jokes and playfulness between participants. Forced laughter soon turns into real and contagious laughter.”
Developed by Indian physician Madan Kataria and his wife, yoga teacher Madhuri, Hasyayoga promotes a general feeling of well-being which is of the utmost importance, especially for seniors, as it makes you feel validated and contributes to leading a full life.
Ok, it might look a bit strange and awkward in the beginning, but don’t knock ‘til you’ve tried it! The people who do this kind of yoga are extremely positive about it. Let’s look at their experiences along in a 10-minute documentary on Laugher yoga in New Zealand.
Now, that looked like fun, didn’t it?
This type of laughing therapy is ideal for those with reduced mobility as you can easily do the exercises sitting down. Look at the following example of some exercises for elderly people who want to remain seated:
Remember, laughing yoga gives you all the benefits of laughter plus it’s a cheerful way to be social and on top of that it’s physical exercise! Do you feel inspired to give it a try? This link will give you ideas on how to find laughter clubs near you. Even if there aren’t any in your town, there’re lots of free on-line and even phone laughter clubs you can try out!
Laughter and your balance health
In conclusion, we’ve seen that laughter is very positive for our general health, and a healthy dose of regular laughing should be part of all our daily diets.
When we think about fall prevention, laughing more is not something that comes to mind immediately. However, it is a tool that we, and especially seniors, can use to prevent falls.
How laughing prevents falling
- As we saw at the beginning of this article, when we laugh we’re also exercising our abs. In turn, they’ll strengthen our core and create better balance and thus minimise seniors’ risk of falling. We all know how falling can result in an array of problems and health complications so maintaining our balance health is extremely important. It’s also especially beneficial to exercise these specific muscles when you suffer from asthma or bronchitis.
- Laughing is one of the best stress-relief and anxiety prevention exercises out there. We stop being tense due to an overall sense of wellbeing because of all the positivity laughing promotes and our bodies relax more too. A relaxed mind will result in a relaxed body, anxiety will decrease and this results in us feeling surer of ourselves. That means we’ll be less likely to fall.
Some jokes to get you started
Do you feel inspired after reading this? We’ll help you get started by providing some of the funniest jokes we found out there! Enjoy and don’t forget to spread the joy, as laughing with others is much more beneficial and much more fun! Of course, humour is subjective, so we hope you’ll like these suggestions:
Snail with an attitude:
A guy is sitting at home when he hears a knock at the door. He opens the door and sees a snail on the porch. He picks the snail up and throws it as far as he can. Three years later there’s a knock on the door. He opens it and sees the same snail. The snail says: ‘What the hell was that all about?’
A genie and an idiot:
Three guys stranded on a desert island find a magic lantern containing a genie, who grants them each one wish. The first guy wishes he was off the island and back home. The second guy wishes the same. The third guy says: ‘I’m lonely. I wish my friends were back here.’
Off to work:
A guy shows up late for work. The boss yells, ‘You should’ve been here at 8.30!’ He replies. ‘Why? What happened at 8.30?’
I told my wife she was drawing her eyebrows too high. She looked surprised.
Classic “dad” jokes:
A ham sandwich walks into a bar and orders a beer. Bartender says: “sorry we don’t serve food here”.
Why do chicken coops only have two doors? Because if they had four, they would be chicken sedans!
Two peanuts were walking down the street. One was a salted.