We’re all familiar with that famous slogan “laughter is the best medicine.” Have you ever wondered why? It’s kind of interesting how a giggle, chuckle, or full-on belly laugh can improve your state of emotional, mental, and physical health. Here’s what the science says, as well as some tips to add a few more chortles into each day.
Here’s Your Prescription for Laughter
Rarely do we come away from a visit to a therapist or physician with recommendations to laugh more, but we really should—and some other healthcare professionals think so, too.
For example, in a 2016 study, a collective of researchers noted that “although there are limitations to the current medical literature on laughter, enough evidence indicates that laughter may be employed as part of our basic armamentarium to help prevent diseases, reduce costs, and ensure a healthier population. While more research must be done, it is also important to acknowledge there is not much to lose in laughing. With no downsides, side-effects, or risks, perhaps it is time to consider laughter seriously.”
The physiological study of laughter is gelotology, which examines what happens when we laugh. If we could see a map of the effects, it might look something like this.
First, various regions of the brain engage when we process something that causes us to laugh, starting with the largest brain region, the cerebral cortex. Instead of simply having an emotional response in the frontal lobe, the brain engages throughout the cortex to:
- Understand the structure and meaning of a joke;
- Trigger heightened sensory awareness and, if we find the stimuli funny;
- Activate motor sections to physically respond.
According to certain studies, more comprehensive brain activity improves cognitive health and mental health in general.
Physically, laughter prompts many bodily functions to react, resulting in numerous benefits such as:
- A more robust immune system
- Stress relief and reduced cortisol levels
- Increased circulation and release of muscle tension
Some researchers have also determined that laughing is quite aerobic. Although the science is limited, preliminary results indicate that “laughter may have similar effects on the body as aerobic exercise, increasing the blood flow in the same way as a bout of aerobic exercise … Laughter stimulates heart and blood circulation and is equivalent to any other standard aerobic exercise.” Hmmmm—jog for an hour or laugh for 10 minutes? Which sounds better?
Emotionally, there are essential positives to a good laugh session each day. As you’re relieving stress, you’re also providing a gateway to a better perspective. According to Taylor Counseling Group, “laughter increases your brain’s release of endorphins and can alter dopamine and serotonin activity. These natural feel-good chemicals improve your overall sense of happiness and temporarily relieve physical pain. By laughing more, you can lessen stress, depression and anxiety, and improve your mindset.”
How to Start Laughing Right Now
Regardless of your sense of humor (considered to be the catalyst to laughing), laughter is often fun to experience in a group, such as at a comedy club or a gathering of friends. There are also many other ways to get a few chuckles each day when you’re alone.
Go ahead: scoff at the groaners. “Someone stole my mood ring…I don’t know how I feel about that.” Um, yeah. Even some of the questionably funny jokes and puns might be so bad, they actually make you laugh anyway.
Spend time listening to funny things. On your workday commute or during a morning walk, listen to various humorous podcasts, comedy bits, and audio books. This helps you refine your tastes and really explore what’s funny.
Take five minutes daily to watch a funny video. Whether it’s cats knocking things over, a clip of your favorite comedian, or another visual that tickles your fancy, you’ll feel an immediate boost.
Check in each day with a cartoonist or two. Most comic strip characters have an ongoing web series or social media posts that help fill your home pages with humorous content.
Engage in a “laughter yoga” session. Yep! It’s a real thing! Laughter yoga might seem silly at first, but your brain and body process the giggles in the same way as other catalysts, and you reap the benefits.
Play with an animal. Whether you have a beloved pet or volunteer to help them, science reinforces how beneficial our interactions with them can be, especially when their antics evoke spontaneous laughter.
Additionally, researchers at the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor recommend that each day, write down three things you found funny. This practice helps you put the day into perspective, improving your mood and potentially, overall happiness.
Lessons in Whole Person Health at Cottonwood Tucson
Our board-certified professionals believe that in order to treat mental health and substance use disorders effectively, we need to consider the whole person, not just the diagnosis. This methodology allows us to provide access to tools for lifelong wellness. If you or someone you love is ready for this approach, please reach out.