No one really knows the origin of the time-honored phrase “laughter is the best medicine,” but some say the phrase is Biblically based. Also unknown is why humans laugh, but the evidence is clear: Frivolity can immediately improve mood, reduce stress and improve health. Danish comedian Victor Borge (1909-2000) once wrote that humor “is the closest distance between two people.”
Laughter is a great form of stress relief, and that’s no joke. ~Mayo Clinic
While having a good sense of humor is not a cure-all, data is mounting about the positive things a good laugh can do for a person. The Mayo Clinic says laughter has short- and long-term effects on an individual’s health, mood, and well-being.
Laughing enhances the intake of oxygen-rich air. It stimulates a person’s heart, lungs, and muscles. Laughter also prompts the brain to increase endorphin release, which can reduce pain and increase pleasure. These feel-good hormones can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
For example: “A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure.” The Mayo Clinic further explains the result is “a good, relaxed feeling.”
Another short-term effect is that laughter soothes tension by stimulating blood circulation and helps the muscles relax, which can help decrease stress’s physical symptoms.
Longer-term health benefits might boost the immune system. This happens because laughter causes stress hormones to go down. Laughing also increases immunity cells and infection-fighting antibodies, which builds resistance to illness.
Mental Benefits of Laughter
Oftentimes stress negatively affects a person’s mental well-being, and laughter can counter feeling bad emotionally. It brings people closer together, lightens the workplace, and even helps with depression.
Harvard Medical School Psychiatry Department Instructor of Psychology Natalie Dattilo said, “Health care is expensive [so] if we can find a tool that is as simple as laughter, that is free for the most part, with no side effects and has no contradictions, that would really be great.”
No one knows why we do it, but it’s free, has no known side effects, and experts say laughter lifts spirits, lowers stress, and makes us feel connected. ~ Harvard Gazette
According to The Harvard Gazette, “Nobody knows precisely why we laugh, though suspicions are that it performed an important bonding and social function in early human groups.”
Nonetheless, psychologists and physicians know that laughter immediately improves a person’s mood. It lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. At the same time, it raises “feel good” neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.
A group of Brazilian and Canadian researchers analyzed 21 studies on hospital clowns’ impact on over 1,600 children and adolescents. These youngsters suffered from symptoms including anxiety, pain, stress, cancer-related fatigue, and tearfulness.
Overall, The Harvard Gazette reports that the studies found that children who were exposed to the clowns “were significantly less anxious during subsequent medical procedures, regardless of whether a parent was present, and experienced improved psychological well-being.”
Dattilo spoke about the process she uses with adults. She says that her process includes things known to be effective such as exercise and natural, quality sleep, social connection, and practicing gratitude. “And one of those categories is play, or pleasure, and laughter is one of the main tools that I use to activate the pleasure and reward centers of the brain, to get them playfully approach life.”
The goal is for them to make time for play with the knowledge that it is an important pillar of health and wellness. Sometimes people think they cannot laugh and play due to being “forced to grow up.” However, play is a state of mind. Simple tasks can become a playful event simply by changing their point of view.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
Mayo Clinic: Stress Management
Greater Good Magazine: How Laughter Brings Us Together, By Jill Suttie
Avanti Senior Living: Laughter: The Physical, Mental, And Social Benefits
Marriage.com: 10 Benefits of Couples Laughing Together in Relationships; By Syliva Smith