You’ve heard all about a vicious cycle, but what about a positive cycle? That’s how we’d define the impact that laughter has on your wellbeing. You see, when you laugh, a plethora of mind and body benefits are triggered, and the feel-good factors they provoke are likely to loop back and make you laugh more often. You probably don’t give it much thought while giggling at the same Friends joke you’ve heard 20 times over (thanks, Netflix), but there are reasons they say “laughter is the best medicine.”
Life can be stressful these days, and sometimes in all the busyness and overwhelm we forget to actually enjoy ourselves and laugh. So, to give us all a little reminder that laughter and joy really are important, we reached out to a psychologist who studies happiness to learn about some of the top benefits of a good, hearty chuckle.
Queue up the latest Netflix stand-up special and read on for 10 reasons why laughter really is the best medicine.
Meet the Expert
1. It Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Not into yoga, meditation, tai chi, or breathwork but still looking for some much-needed calm? Try watching the next viral funny cat video or whatever tickles your particular funny bone. After all, it turns out that laughter can be a potent stress buster. Research demonstrates that laughter not only releases a hefty dose of those feel-good chemicals called endorphins, but it also lowers stress hormone (cortisol) levels, promoting a feeling of calm. No wonder laughter yoga has become a thing—talk about a double dose of serenity.
2. Learning Is Easier
If you want someone to remember something you're telling them, just make them laugh. Humor can reduce your anxiety and make you feel less frazzled, leaving you in a better state to concentrate and absorb new information.
3. It Lowers Your Blood Pressure
“There is ample research to suggest that genuine laughter—but not forced laughter—reduces blood pressure, anxiety, and stress, and actually helps to oxygenate the blood,” says Kurtz. While researchers say "mirthful laughter" can cause an initial spike in blood pressure, the rise is followed by a decrease that takes blood pressure below its normal resting level.
4. You're Less Likely to Get Sick
We're not telling you to ditch your daily multivitamin, but if you're looking to bolster your immune system further, laughing might just do the trick. Research indicates that giggling can increase the number of infection-fighting antibodies in your body, giving you an extra layer of protection from the cold-season germs at the office. We'll try anything, frankly…
5. It Relieves Pain
Hold the ibuprofen. Research has found that laughter can decrease the intensity of pain you feel. Laughter—particularly in a social context—can also increase your pain threshold, thanks to the analgesic effect of the endorphins. Indeed, these feel-good hormones have opiate effects that increase your sense of well-being and better equip you to handle pain.
6. Your Workout Gets an Upgrade
You might wonder how much laughter can really affect your workout. As it turns out, quite a lot. Physically, laughter strengthens your diaphragm, abdominals, and lungs, all of which can improve your cardiovascular fitness. A laugh during the workout will produce endorphins on top of those you’re releasing from the sweat session itself, increasing your pain threshold and reducing fatigue so you can push that much harder and longer through a rigorous workout. Throw in the fact that laughter improves your mood, thus upping your enthusiasm in the gym, and it’s easy to see why hitting the treadmill at your happiest trumps dragging yourself through the motions with the weight of the world on your shoulders.
To encourage laughter during your workout, consider swapping out your normal playlist of jams for a comedy podcast.
7. It Strengthens Relationships
“While we can get these benefits when alone, laughing with others brings extra perks: in a social situation, shared laughter creates social connections and a sense of closeness,” says Kurtz. This is a no-brainer. Everyone loves being around somebody who makes them laugh, so it's hardly a surprise to discover that laughter is great for your relationship. It all ties back, again, to endorphins: when you're laughing together, endorphins are released into your brain, creating an overall sense of happiness, contentment, and wellbeing with your partner or friends.
8. It Improves Your Ability to Handle Future Stress
That’s right: not only does a belly-grasping laugh reduce stress in the moment, but research has found that laughter can even help buffer the intensity of stress symptoms you’ll experience during future challenges. In other words, the more you laugh now, the less negatively affected you'll be by obstacles that you'll face in the coming months. It almost sounds like frequent laughter can act like a partial vaccine against life’s inevitable hardships. Sign us up.
9. It Can Provide a New Perspective
You know how some people use self-deprecating humor or try to laugh at tough situations that aren’t funny at all? Turns out, this defense mechanism may actually have some legs to stand on. “Laughter can also get us ‘unstuck,’ opening our minds to creating solutions to problems, and lending some perspective to a tough situation,” notes Kurtz. So, if you’re faced with one stressor on top of another, or find yourself having to slog through an upsetting or challenging time, try inserting some humor—find a little aspect to laugh at—to provide some levity and perspective that may allow you to potentially see a way out of the problem—or at least feel emotionally equipped and resilient enough to handle it.
10. It Burns Calories
Research has found that because laughing increases your heart rate, you burn about 10% more calories during a bout of giggles than you do at rest. So, while it won’t torch nearly as many calories as a hard HIIT workout or lifting weights, perhaps we can all feel a little less guilty the next time we skip the gym in favor of some Netflix-and-chill time. Just make sure what you’re binging is more along the lines of Schitt’s Creek than The Crown, and really let those deep belly laughs out!
How to Make Yourself Laugh
“The good news is, just so [long as] the laughter is genuine, it doesn’t really matter why you are laughing,” says Kurtz. “Laughing at a stand-up comedian or a satirical news article seems just as beneficial as laughing at your child doing something silly.” According to Kurtz, you’ll reap the benefits of the physiological act of laughing as long as you’re actually laughing.
Not in the mood for laughter? That's okay. In fact, acting coach Mel Churcher tells us it's possible to laugh on command. "Give your body the right clues and fake laughter will quickly feel real," he explains. Here's how you do it: "Smile. Put your hand on your stomach. Breathe in quickly through your nose, and then let your breath out through your mouth on 'huh,' 'huh,' huh,' feeling your stomach pumping inwards on each sound as you go faster and faster. Then let your real laughter take over.” Kurtz agrees. “If your laughter feels "fake" at first, practice sticking with it until, maybe, the absurdity of the situation starts to spark genuine laughter,” she says.
It really is as easy as that.
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