“I have decided to be happy, because it’s good for my health” Voltaire
Laughter is the quickest and easiest way to boost your mood. But as well as making you happier, there are multiple health benefits of laughter. Laughing can improve your physical health, emotional wellbeing and strengthen your relationships with others. It can even reduce pain and help you live longer! And it’s limitless and free of charge!
Babies smile and laugh often – joy is their natural state. But, unfortunately, adults often tend to lose that spontaneous connection to their inner joy. However it’s easy to recapture this by consciously choosing to find more things to laugh at, do it more often and cultivate a more humorous look at life. Then it starts to become second nature to laugh easily and often. And the more often you laugh and the longer you laugh for, the happier and healthier you will be.
“He who laughs…..lasts” – Erma Bombeck
The multiple physical health benefits of laughter
Laughter boosts the immune system
One minute of laughter boosts the immune system for 24 hours! The lymphatic system is the body’s cleaning mechanism which collects and removes waste materials from all over the body. Lymph nodes throughout the body are cleaning stations, and also produce white blood cells and antibodies to fight disease. But unlike the circulatory system, which has the heart to pump it round the body, the lymphatic system has no pump. Its movement relies on motions of the muscles and joints to drive it around the body – that’s another reason why exercise is good for your health!
However, studies have shown that belly laughter creates the ideal breathing motion in the diaphragm to produce a vacuum effect which pulls the lymph through the bloodstream. This, in turn, speeds up the elimination of toxins in the body by up to 15 times. What’s more, it’s also increasing the production of white blood cells and antibodies giving better immunity and protection against diseases.
Laughter produces feel good hormones
“Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.” – Lord Byron
The deep breathing movement of the diaphragm in laughter also engages the parasympathetic nervous system. This signals the reduction of stress hormones, such as cortisol, and the production of endorphins, the ‘feel good’ hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain. So stress and anxiety goes and happiness flows!
Laughing is good for your heart
When you laugh there’s a contraction of muscles, which increases blood flow and sends more oxygen to the tissues. This stimulates the heart and lungs. Research has shown that laughter also has an anti-inflammatory effect that protects blood vessels and heart muscles from the damaging effects of cardiovascular disease. One laughter researcher, William Fry, claimed it took ten minutes on a rowing machine for his heart rate to reach the level it would after just one minute of hearty laughter.
More physical health benefits of laughing
“The simple truth is that happy people generally don’t get sick” – Bernie Siegel, MD
- Laughter sends dopamine to the brain to provide a sense of pleasure, and that in turn changes brainwave activity to gamma frequency which boosts memory and recall.
- Laughing often can help you live longer – studies in Japan and Norway indicate that those who laugh more live longer.
- In diabetes research, watching comedy was found to lower blood sugar.
- A belly laugh increases digestive juices which aids digestion.
- Laughter decreases pain – both by increasing endorphins, which are natural opiates, and by distracting the mind from it.
- Laughter relieves physical tension and relaxes your muscles for up to 45 minutes.
- It burns calories – research found that 15 minutes of laughter a day will burn up to 40 calories.
The emotional and mental health benefits of laughter
“Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” – Bob Newhart
Since laughing triggers all the things in the body that make you feel good, it’s great for your emotional wellbeing too. It raises your mood instantly, but what’s more, these good feelings stay around after the belly laugh is over.
Laughter helps you keep a positive mind-set in the face of challenging times, disappointment or grief. It helps put problems into perspective so you don’t feel overwhelmed. It gives you hope. It’s an amazing tool to help you deal with what life throws at you. It helps you become more resilient because you know you have a tool you can call upon easily to make you feel better instantly, whatever is happening around you.
Laughter for stress relief
Laughing relieves mental anxiety and stress and can help with depression. It both breaks through repetitive negative thinking patterns and dissolves distressing emotions. That’s why the funny animal videos on Youtube are so popular – instant therapy when you are feeling down! Research has shown that one second after we start laughing, our cerebral cortex releases electrical impulses that block the passage of negative thoughts. If you notice yourself stuck in a difficult pattern of negative thinking, an Access Consciousness Bars session may also help you break away from those limiting beliefs. Read more about How to free yourself from negative thinking.
“I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.” – Bob Hope
And if you can’t manage a laugh, just a smile starts to shift things. If you smile, even if you’re in a bad mood, it will immediately improve your mood because the simple action of thinking about smiling and using those muscles is enough to trigger happy chemicals in the brain.
Laugh at yourself to silence your inner critic
Significantly, by learning to laugh at yourself, you can boost your own self-esteem. You take the sting out of your internal critic and start to judge yourself less harshly. When you can laugh at your own mistakes and the embarrassing things that happen to you, you start to embrace your imperfections and love yourself a bit more. Read more about Self-love and self-esteem – why is it important?
“To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity.” – William Arthur Ward
Laughter enhances social relationships
“What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul. Laughter is the shortest distance between two people” – Victor Borge
Laughter unites people in difficult times and gives them common ground beyond all differences of language and culture. It’s a universal form of communication – everybody laughs the same in every language. Shared laughter and humour is a great way to break the ice with new people and establish a connection. It’s an excellent tool for group bonding and to promote teamwork.
Shared laughter is a powerful way to heal divisions between people as it helps them release anger, forget resentments and be more forgiving. It can help diffuse difficult situations and resolve conflict. Surprising how many comedians say they became the class clown to win over the school bullies. Funny people are often also popular people.
“You can’t stay mad at somebody who makes you laugh” – Jay Leno
Laughter is contagious
Laughter encourages social interaction, which has a positive effect on mental and emotional health too. It strengthens relationships and shared humour brings you closer to others. What’s more, laughter really is contagious. Just hearing others laugh primes your brain and gets you ready to smile and laugh too. Furthermore, shared laughter spreads endorphin release through groups of people and so promotes a sense of togetherness and safety. Laughter spreading through a group is like endorphin dominoes. Therefore, the more laughter you can bring into your own life, the happier those around you are going to feel.
“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter” – Mark Twain
How can you bring more laughter into your life?
Now we know the many advantages to wellbeing, what are the best ways to encourage yourself to laugh more to reap the health benefits of laughter?
Activities to make you laugh
- Prioritise fun activities, preferably with friends. Set aside some time for laughter in every day.
- Read a funny book, watch comedies or YouTube videos of funny animals. Here are some of my favourites to get you started: Funny Animals
- Spend time with people who make you laugh and try to make others laugh.
- According to studies, it’s 30 times easier to laugh in the company of others, so get together with friends and laughter will flow.
- Make a list of things that make you laugh and keep adding to it. For example: jokes you remember; funny situations that have happened to you or others that always raise a smile. My list is on my phone so I can have a read through whenever I have a blip in mood.
- Play with children. It makes you feel good and when you help children develop a sense of humour, you’re also increasing their mental, emotional and cognitive development.
- Play with a pet – my instant mood booster is dancing round the kitchen with the dog. The dog likes it too!
- Go to a laughter yoga or laughter therapy class. Simulated laughter has been shown to bring the same health benefits as genuine laughter, and often triggers the real thing!
- Invite your inner child out to play by doing something silly. I like to skip down the road. It’s impossible to skip and be miserable!
Develop a humourous outlook
- As far as possible, stay away from negative people and don’t dwell on negative things you’ve heard.
- Choose to laugh whenever you can – notice life’s absurdities and laugh about them.
- Try to find some humour when something negative happens (although obviously there are times when laughter is not an appropriate response).
- Smile often. Smiling is the start of laughter and like laughter is contagious. Smile at co-workers. Smile at strangers. Smiling even when you don’t feel like it, tells the body to start to release feel good chemicals.
- Laugh at yourself and embrace your imperfections.
- Notice things to appreciate and be grateful for. Gratitude is an excellent way to move yourself closer to that inner joy.
“For the most part, when you go and get medical treatment, a clinician is not necessarily going to tell you to take two aspirins and watch Laurel and Hardy, but the reality is that’s where we are and it’s more real than ever. There’s a real science to this. And it’s as real as taking a drug.” – Lee Berk, DrPH, Assoc Res Pro Loma Linda School of Medicine
Studies about the benefits of laughter: