Why Laughter is Healthy
Expectant parents often say they don’t mind what gender their baby is, as long as it is happy and healthy. These two hopes for their child continue long after the birth and most people around the world would cite happiness and health as the most important factors in their lives. Interestingly, the two are linked. Beyond ‘laughter is the best medicine’, there is actually scientific evidence to support this saying, proving that laughter actually leads to a healthier person. And here’s how:
The act of laughing reduces the levels of stress hormones in our bodies. Cortisol and adrenaline are responsible for our feelings of stress. In particular, when it comes to health, lowering levels of cortisol is very important. This hormone is produced by the adrenal glands and works more slowly than adrenaline which is felt immediately. The amygdala part of our brain may recognise a threat or something to stress us and trigger its release. The build up of cortisol not only leads to feelings of stress but also an increased appetite. Eating when you’re stressed is linked to higher cortisol levels. The hormone also lowers our metabolisms. Therefore, if you are stressed and eating more, your body is going to be unhealthier. Unhealthy people are unhappier than healthy people, numerous studies have found. However, laughter decreases the production of cortisol so if you’re happy in the first place, you are also more likely to be healthy.
The act of laughing has been linked to the release of the human growth hormone (HGH) as well, crucial not only for growth during adolescence but also regulating the body’s metabolism and warding off infections and diseases throughout our lives. The pituitary gland produces HGH and it is most commonly associated with sleep; one of the main reasons doctors advise patients to get a lot of sleep when they are sick. Not only does HGH keep us looking more youthful but it ensures we stay as healthy as possible and laughter can boost its production. It has also been linked to globulins which our bodies release to strengthen our immune systems.
Laughing also releases endorphins, triggering feelings of happiness which last longer than the enjoyment of the joke which started the laugh in the first place. Endorphins make us feel pleasure but they also act as pain killers. They are produced, therefore, both when we are amused (laughing) and injured. Humans have long since understood there to be a link between happiness and healing because of the body’s ability to produce endorphins which consequently numb pain. On an innate biological level, therefore, laughter really is a kind of natural medicine. The feel of the chemicals released in your body when you experience something truly hilarious is comparable to the high triggered by cocaine. Apparently.
Physically, laughter requires your cardiovascular system to work harder. Ok, it doesn’t quite have the same impact as going for a run or cycling 40 miles but it can, tenuously, be considered exercise. In fact, laughing for 15 minutes can burn up to 40 calories. Ok, there is no such thing as the laughter diet which allows you to eat whatever you want and just watch funny YouTube clips for an hour per day. But over a year, laughing every day for about 15 minutes can lead to a weight loss of 4 pounds which may not be ground-breaking but it’s something!
There is the suggestion that laughter is a physical expression which reinforces happiness through a kind of placebo effect. After experiencing something funny or being entertained in public, we usually laugh out loud. But if you’re sitting alone in your bedroom watching TV or reading a book, your appreciation of a joke is far less likely to be audible. It has to be something truly hilarious to make me laugh out loud to myself. However, in public we are far more vocal. Perhaps this is a way to demonstrate to your social group you understand and appreciate the joke being told. Laughing is an expression of a healthy social interaction.
Telling humourous stories is a great way to make friends and as we know from earlier blogs, friendships are incredibly important to people’s happiness. Funny people are often considered more attractive, find it easier to connect with new people and form relationships. Laughter and the ability to make people laugh results in a healthy social life which in turn makes us happy. Loneliness is one of life’s saddest diseases.
Children laugh more than adults. Once again, my research has led me to realise adults. in many ways, lose their innate ability to make themselves happy. As the stress and responsibility of real life weighs down upon them, the ease at which laughter and happiness can be found when they were children fades from existence. So perhaps we should strive to keep our sense of humour young just as much as we try to stop wrinkles, hide grey hairs and maintain a defined musculature. Maybe the trick to eternal youth lies in finding joy in the simple things in life and we should all take a leaf out of the joke book of a five-year-old…
Go. Do. Experience. More Good Deeds.