Not only does it feel good to laugh out loud, but it also makes you more attractive, can lead to stronger friendships, and is even considered “natural medicine” for both your physical and mental health.
Why do we laugh, and what does a laugh mean biologically? Let’s dive in to the science of laughter below, including why having a sense of humor might help you live a longer, more fulfilling life.
Benefits of Laughing
How do you describe laughter? Laughing is defined as “showing emotion (such as mirth, joy or scorn) with a chuckle or explosive vocal sound.”
Is laughter an emotion?
Most experts consider it to be. In fact, it’s often called a “contagious emotion” because it tends to spread from person to person.
In terms of what takes place in our bodies when we laugh, there’s actually still a lot of unknowns. According to Psychology Today, “Although laughter is one of the distinguishing features of human beings, little is known about the mechanisms behind it.”
We know that people tend to laugh in several scenarios, including:
- To communicate to others we think something is funny
- Due to embarrassment and social discomfort
- To facilitate bonding and understanding across groups of people
Is laughing a sign of happiness?
Laughing tends to occur more among people who are already happy, and it can also make you feel happier too.
In humans and primates, laughing releases endorphins and other “feel good” chemicals that help strengthen social bonds, reduce pain and increase motivation, all of which contribute to overall mental/emotional well-being. Laughing even burns calories, although not as much as most types of moderate exercise.
When you laugh, you naturally buffer yourself against some of the damaging effects of stress, since laughing puts the brakes on your defensive stress responses, including our “fight or flight” response. Laughing also draws others closer to you, since the happier you appear, the more those around you feel happy too.
What are the benefits of laughing?
Laughter has been shown in studies to contribute to dozens of health benefits. In fact, laughing more often may even help you live longer.
One study done in 2016 found that people with a strong sense of humor had a longer life expectancy than those who didn’t laugh often due to reduced risk for issues like heart disease and infections.
Laughing is associated with some of the following health benefits:
- Improves your mood, reducing anxiety symptoms, anger, resentment, depression and sadness
- Boosts your immune system by decreasing circulating stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies
- Relaxes muscles and relieves tension
- Increases blood flow/circulation and can help protect against heart disease
- Improves mental and physical resilience (some even compare it to exercise in this regard!)
- Decreases pain
- Boosts social bonds between friends and attraction between men and women; in fact, women are sometimes called greater “laughter appreciators” because they tend to laugh over 120 percent more on average than men do
- Helps you to forgive sooner and gives you new perspective when dealing with challenges
- Improves alertness, productivity and memory, including in the workplace
- Gives you a generally more positive, optimistic outlook, which you bring to new and challenging situations
How to Bring More Laughter Into Life
Robert Provine, Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, believes that laughter isn’t necessarily just about humor, but also highly tied to communication and relationships. His research has shown that people actually laugh more in conversation and through interactions, rather than when watching or reading something funny while alone.
Some studies have even shown that we’re about 30 times more likely to laugh at something when we are with other people!
As HelpGuide.org puts its:
Sharing humor is half the fun—in fact, most laughter doesn’t come from hearing jokes, but rather simply from spending time with friends and family. And it’s this social aspect that plays such an important role in the health benefits of laughter.
Drawing upon what we know about how laughing usually occurs and how it benefits us, here are some ways to bring more laughs into your everyday life:
- Pay attention to what other people in your social circle think is funny. Laughing together is a great way to build stronger relationships, which is powerful at reducing loneliness-related stress.
- While socializing, put your phone away and try to avoid distractions. The more present you are with others, the more you’ll relish in other people’s jokes and senses of humor. When you hear laughter, seek out the source and feel free to ask about what others find to be funny.
- Spend more time with funny, playful, happy people. Some simple ways to increase opportunities for laughing with others include hosting game nights, going to comedy shows together, sharing jokes and stories, or making time for fun activities like playing board games or non-competitive sports.
- Seek out funny shows, books, podcasts, etc. Purposefully making an effort to bring more humorous content into your life is a great way to lift your mood.
- Attend comedy shows or watch them online.
- Try using humor to manage conflicts, in a respectful way of course. When you have a disagreement with someone, you can bring some humor to the situation to reduce tension, decrease defensiveness and anger, and put things into perspective.
- Make an effort to smile more often. Smiling is “the beginning of laughter” and is usually equally as contagious as laughing is. You’re more likely to smile more often if you pay attention to people while in face-to-face situations, so try making better eye contact and avoiding looking away or other distractions.
- Practice gratitude to boost your mood. The more grateful you feel, the higher the chances are that you’ll feel happy and in a good enough mood to laugh often. You can boost gratitude by keeping a journal/list or writing other people letters of appreciation. If you’re religious, you may be wondering, “What does the Bible says about laughter?” Laughter has been said to be a “gift from God” and a great way to cope with sadness — plus it can help you “count your blessings” by shining the light on joys in your life.
- Try “simulated laughter” by taking a laugh yoga or laugh therapy class.
Developing a Sense of Humor
Maybe you hold the belief that you’re not naturally a very humorous person. If you want to work on bringing more laughter into your life, here are tips from comedians and researchers who study laughter on boosting your sense of humor:
- Be more silly and spontaneous. You’ll find more opportunities to laugh when you take yourself less seriously.
- Build your self-esteem, and let go of judgment. If you tend to be insecure, defensive and critical of others and yourself, it’ll be hard to laugh at different situations, including at yourself. The more you can approach life with a non-judgmental, self-assured attitude, the more humor you’ll be able to find.
- Become emotionally intelligent and self-aware. People who are in tune with their feelings, who can manage stress and who are empathetic to others’ feelings are better able to connect and laugh together.
- Look for the humor in different situations, even those that seem bleak or frustrating at first.
Risks and Side Effects
Is laughing a lot a bad thing? For example, have you ever wondered: Can too much laughing kill you?
Overall, laughing is completely natural and a healthy thing to do. It poses very minimal risks and benefits your well-being in numerous ways — such as by improving blood vessel function and reducing stiffness of the arteries.
If you laugh hysterically for a long period of time, you may potentially become winded, and some people even tear up or pee themselves when they laugh very hard. For most people, however, adding more laughs to their days is a very wise thing to do.
- Laughter is capable of supporting both physical and emotional health, as well as enhancing your relationships.
- Studies have found that people who laugh often benefit from stronger immune systems, more social support, boosts in their happiness and mood, diminished pain, protection against many diseases tied to stress, and even a longer life expectancy.
- People who incorporate humor and play into their daily lives tend to be more attractive to others, have higher self-esteem and have better coping skills when faced with challenges.
- You can bring more laughter into your life by seeking out funny people, consuming humorous content, socializing more in groups, becoming more self-assured and less judgmental, and practicing more gratitude.
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