My mother has always said that the best treatment is laughter. But what are scientists saying? Although chuckling does not cure cancer, it has some observable health benefits that are good for your heart, brain, relationships, and your overall sense of well-being.
Laughing is seen as a sign of happiness, but it also brings it on, allowing the brain to release feel-good neurotransmitters: dopamine, which stimulates the brain to process emotional reactions and improves our pleasure experience; serotonin, which boosts our mood; and endorphins, which control pain and tension and cause euphoria. A recent research has also shown that laughing with others releases endorphins through opioid receptors, indicating that euphoria induced by laughter is like a narcotic, but without the obvious disadvantages.
Laughing also can help avoid a heart event, beyond a mood boost. Common everyday challenges may cause chronic stress as they constantly stimulate our ancient fight-orflight response, causing our blood vessels to constrict and our blood pressure to rise, such as heavy workloads, unpaid bills or disputes with loved ones. This can lead to various health issues, including an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
But a good laugh will help reverse the impact of stress, much like cholesterol-lowering medications and aerobic exercise. Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center discovered in 2005 that laughter, by dilating the inner lining of arteries, enhances blood flow. There’s no need for the heart to pump as hard, which decreases your blood pressure.
Laughter is an antidote to suffering, too, and so our stamina improves. Due to the endorphin-mediated opiate effect, a 2011 Oxford University study found that the pain levels of subjects were substantially higher after laughing. This means that you can help squeeze out a few more reps at the gym or go further on your regular walk by sharing a joke with a friend. It exercises many muscle groups, including the abdomen, back, shoulders, diaphragm and face. A good belly laugh often happens to be a bit of a workout on its own.
Joking around is also a boon to our social lives, and with others, laughter is 30 times more likely to happen than when we are alone. These mutual giggles act to strengthen and sustain our sense of togetherness by way of endorphin dominoes: when someone starts laughing, others will laugh, even if they’re not sure what someone is on about. Laughs is infectious, very literally.
And when you laugh, you have access to an ancient mechanism that mammals have developed to create and sustain social relations. This social relationship is important to our physical and mental health, improving our immune system and prolonging our lives. People who feel more linked to others have greater self-esteem, lower rates of depression and anxiety, and are more compassionate.
Inherently, babies understand the meaning of mutual laughs. Babies can make you laugh, and almost instantly you can make them laugh, with no jokes involved. Laughter is not always linked to humour, even for adults, we laugh to show people that we understand them, that we agree with them, that we are part of the group and that we like them or even love them.
It’s the fastest and simplest way to lighten your mental burden and boost your physical well-being, so go ahead and be dumb with someone you care about. It’s also pretty fun.
Check out my related post: What is fake laughter?