The Surprising Benefits of Laughter: Exploring Its Humorous Effects on Your Health

My husband, Don, likes to say that he needs to laugh every day (but only cry once or twice a year). I appreciate and admire his good nature, and I’m sure his ability to see the humor in life helps him stay even-keeled.

Now, recent research on laughter suggests that it has even more benefits than Don could imagine — and they’re no joke.

One recent review of several well-run studies found that laughter helps people improve their mood, well-being, and quality of life, while reducing their anxiety, depression, stress, pain, and fatigue. Laughter, when shared, can also bring people closer together and defuse tension in relationships. And, as any student can tell you, it’s probably easier to pay attention and retain information in the classroom if a teacher infuses lessons with humor.

While it may not be possible to laugh in every situation, there are many ways you can infuse your days with more laughter — from watching comedy shows to scrolling through funny cat videos to reading the daily comics to participating in laughter yoga (a deliberate practice of laughing, often in groups). Here are some of the many reasons why you might want to laugh more in your everyday life.

Laughter reduces stress and improves your mood
It makes intuitive sense that laughter makes us feel better when we’re in distress. It’s the reason why clowns are sometimes brought into hospitals to cheer up patients or why we often turn to watching short, funny cat videos when we feel stressed out. Laughter and humor help us to process difficult situations, perhaps by decreasing stress hormones in our bodies and encouraging the release of endorphins and dopamine — feel-good neurotransmitters associated with experiencing pleasurable events, like listening to music, having sex, or eating delicious food.

Laughter yoga was found to reduce stress, anxiety, and burnout in nurses during the pandemic (a super stressful time). Two recent reviews of research found that laughter decreases anxiety and can also reduce depression and improve sleep. In fact, even the anticipation of laughter may reduce stress hormones, suggesting that it’s a good idea to infuse more of it into your life.

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Perhaps that’s why a recent review of many studies concluded that “laughter therapy is effective and scientifically supported as a single or [complementary] therapy” for people suffering from stress and depression.

Laughter is good medicine for what ails you
Ever since Norman Cousins first introduced the idea that laughter could be good medicine, scientists have been looking to see if there is any real connection between laughter and physical health. As it turns out, there may well be — at least according to some research.

Laughter has been found to improve cardiovascular function in healthy adults. In one study, people with Type 2 diabetes who were prescribed laughter yoga in addition to receiving regular care had better blood sugar levels, slept longer, and felt happier than those who received regular care alone.

One long-term study in Japan found that people who laughed more were less likely to develop disabilities later on, and in turn to live longer. That isn’t necessarily a conclusive finding, though, as people with less pain or physical problems may simply laugh more in the first place. But at least some evidence suggests that people who laugh or find humor in life are less likely to experience pain, which could be a reason why they fare better later in life.

It’s hard to know exactly why laughter is healthy, since our mood and stress levels have such a big impact on our physical health, and laughter influences those. But at least some researchers suggest that prescribing laughter could be a low-cost, easy way to help people who are already receiving medical care.

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Laughter makes you more attractive
I’ve always been drawn to people who can make me laugh — including Don, of course. It turns out I’m not alone: People tend to find humorous people more attractive, as long as their humor isn’t mean or demeaning.

People who are happier in their romantic relationships tend to use humor (as well as other approaches) to make each other feel better. And the more frequently romantic partners share laughter, the more emotionally intimate and caring they tend to be, suggesting that humor and laughing are good for our relationships.

Laughter is a kind of social glue — and not just for couples. Children as young as three will laugh more when they are around other children, helping to cement social connection. Adults, too, like to laugh with other people as a way of bonding with them, and we tend to feel closer to the people we can share a laugh with — even a stranger. When we overhear two people laughing together, we are able to tell (just from the quality of their laughter) if they are friends or not, suggesting that laughter both creates and communicates closeness.

This all hints at a potential evolutionary purpose of laughter — to attract mates, bring us closer together, and, perhaps, keep conflicts from tearing us apart. After all, there’s nothing like a good laugh to release tension and reduce anger, as I’ve found in my own life.

Laughter brings happiness…but not always
Of course, I suppose we really don’t need research to tell us that humor and laughing bring happiness. But, in case there’s any doubt, research does find that people who laugh are often happier — probably for all of the reasons above. And laughter can be contagious, which makes it spread beyond you to the world around you.

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Still, not all laughs are the same or produce the same results. When we try laughter yoga or laugh spontaneously at jokes, sure, we are probably going to feel better. But sometimes we laugh when we are nervous or embarrassed — which doesn’t lead to happiness. Also, laughing at someone else’s expense, as a way of humiliating or intimidating them, doesn’t have the same benefits as more shared, playful laughter. It can even increase prejudice.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t laugh more in our lives;only that we should understand when and where it’s done for the sake of pure joy and connection. To that end, you may want to try out laughter yoga, which is available online and in many places around the world. If that’s not your thing, though, funny videos, movies, comedy shows, and more are all at your disposal. You may want to ask friends for recommendations and share your own laugh-out-loud experiences with others. And you can always try our Greater Good in Action practices, such as listening to others laugh or journaling about humorous things that happened during your day.

Whatever the case, it certainly couldn’t hurt to laugh a bit more (as long as you don’t have any broken ribs or other physical impediments, that is). It might even make you happier, healthier, and closer to the people you love.

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This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Click here to read the original article. 

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