We know it makes us feel good, but there are more benefits to a good laugh than we think. We asked the experts why laughter really is the best medicine…
What laughter does for the body
Works your muscles
Okay, not as much as hitting the gym, but a good belly laugh really does work the abdomen, plus all the muscles in our face, scalp, neck and shoulders. Laughing also stimulates our cardiac muscles and makes our heart rate and blood pressure increase, then reverse. In fact, waves of laughter ease any muscle tension by creating a cycle of “stimulation and relaxation”.
There are no muscles in our lungs, but laughing empties lungs of more air than we take in. The result is a cleansing effect, which is similar to deep breathing.
A hormonal charge
When we laugh, we release three wonderful hormones, catecholamine (which makes us feel alert, stimulates memory and reduces inflammation), endorphins (our natural opiates, they make us feel good, help control pain and stimulate the immune system) and immunoglobulin-A (protects against coughs and colds). At the same time, we reduce cortisol, the stress hormone.
An immune boost
Research is even showing that laughter increases the activity of white blood cells, and T-cells, which are the cells in our immune system which fight infection.
What laughter does for the mind and soul
Gives you distance
Seeing the funny side of life helps to put things into perspective. Stand-up comics know that the common stresses of life, a disapproving mother, a grumpy teenage son, a failed diet, a disastrous spate of online dating, give them their best material, and at the same time, for the audience, take the sting out of reality. Searching for humour, viewing things in a different way, then laughing about it with friends, helps us take a mental step back and become less emotionally involved.
Laughter is social, and contagious. We rarely laugh alone. Shared laughter in the office with colleagues or with family around the table, brings the pleasure of acceptance, belonging and an in-group feeling. And after a good laugh together, it’s hard to then be uncooperative or cross. The observations about daily life that contemporary comedians use to make fun of our universal foibles act in the same way.
Improves your marriage
Sharing a sense of fun and humour is key to successful relationships. Laughing together and also laughing about hilarious (maybe in retrospect) shared events significantly boosts the bond between couples. It’s also the ultimate tension – buster essential in any marriage. Being able to exit an argument using humour and shared laughter is a key indicator of a healthy, happy relationship.
Comforts and creates resilience
Decoding, appreciating and creating humour are all right-brain activities, compared with the left hemisphere, which is concerned with logic and reasoning. There are many things life throws at us, that can’t be solved through logic and reasoning. Some events defy logic, such as major disasters and in other situations, such as divorce or retrenchment, no amount of reason can offer relief. We have to find another way of coping and have come up with a good response: laugh through tough times. Most laughter arises from social interaction, so if you want to laugh more, spend time with positive, happy people.
So how can you increase your daily dosage and laugh more?
See your girlfriends
Meet up often for a coffee or glass of wine. We laugh up to 30 times more when we are around others, especially our friends.
Host a comedy night
You don’t have to be on stage, just invite friends over for dinner and an evening of watching your favourite classic comedy shows.
Think outside the box
Novelty situations are more likely to make us laugh. Switch off the TV and get your family to play board games instead. Forego your favourite restaurant on your next date night for a night in a casino.
Know your triggers
We all have memories of times we laughed and laughed. Just re-telling stories makes us laugh again. Write your memories down or create an album of family photos, pictures and any other bits and pieces that trigger funny memories.