F. Benefits Of Laughter

Let’s talk briefly about the science of laughter.

The idea is not to make you more knowledgeable about what to say to others but to help you understand how you have been impacted by it throughout your life.

Laughing impacts the human body in four main ways, which in turn can benefit us (or not) physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and even spiritually.

Neurologically, Through The Transmission Of Nerve Impulses

Elevates pain threshold and tolerance. Laughter is respectfully regarded as the most easily accessible analgesic for pain. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders. It helps people forget about the pain. In a study of 35 patients in a rehabilitation hospital, 74% agreed with the statement,” Sometimes laughing works as well as a pain pill.” These patients had various conditions, such as spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, arthritis, limb amputations, and other neurological or musculoskeletal disorders.

Biophysically, Through Pressure Waves

  • Exercise. Physical fitness stemming from laughter is a benefit known to few. It’s a form of soft gymnastics that some people refer to as stationary jogging. The mere act of laughing exercises the diaphragm and the abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles. This is because the diaphragm is the only muscle in the body attached to other muscles, which is why laughter jogs all your internal organs.  Laughter is essential for seniors as well as bedridden or people who use wheelchairs. It requires no special equipment, environment, or clothing and is a fun – rather than tedious – way to enhance one’s daily well-being.
  • Less stress, anxiety, and tension. Laughter is the #1 natural enemy of bad stress because they are physiological opposites. The predominance of one tends to prevent the other. The predominance of one (deeper breathing and laughter) tends to prevent the other (fear). A clue to this may be found in the body’s typical actions after extreme stress of the fight or flight kind: deep panting and using laughter to make light of events that provoked fear.
  • More relaxation. All relaxation response is exhalation based. Laughter causes breathing, which manifests as a brief inspiration followed by a pause and then a long, jerky expiration. This results in a stimulation of the vagus nerve – the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system and one of the most important nerves in the body – that happens to go through the diaphragm, which means that its movement stimulates it and through it, the parasympathetic (relaxation) response.
  • Increased immune system’s defenses and improved natural defenses against illness. Laughter helps to provide longer exhalations, thus ridding the lungs of residual air and enriching the blood with ample supplies of oxygen, the lifeline of our system. It also helps to improve the cardiac vagal tone, an indication of your body’s capacity to regain calm after you’ve been in a stressful situation. The low vagal tone has been linked to chronic inflammation throughout the body, which is a known risk factor for heart failure, stroke, and diabetes. It also improves the flow of lymph and, therefore, all immune functions.

Biochemically, Via Neurotransmitters And Hormones

  • Helps to naturally create a healthy DOSE of well-being (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins.)
  • Reduces stress, anxiety, and tension and counteracts depression symptoms.
  • Elevates mood, energy, and vigor.

Energetically, through electromagnetic field interactions

  • Creates a new perspective. Change our perception of the world and redefine stress from “threat” to “challenge.”
  • Changes our mental map from NMA (Negative Mental Attitude) to PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) by releasing negative thoughts and emotions when we are down.
  • Improves interpersonal interaction, relationships, attraction, and closeness.
  • Increases friendliness and helpfulness and builds group identity, solidarity, and cohesiveness.
  • Promotes psychological well-being.
  • Elevates self-esteem and hope.
  • Builds resilience.

Now let’s talk about you

  • Physical benefits. Have you ever experienced pain, somehow laughed, and the pain was reduced or disappeared altogether? Or maybe experienced illness and found that laughter gave you strength and helped you heal faster?
  • Mental benefits. Have you ever experienced stress or tension that laughter helped to dissipate? Or experienced that laughter got you out of a negative frame of mind?
  • Emotional benefits. Have you ever felt sad or somewhat depressed and experienced laughter making you feel better almost instantly?
  • Social benefits. Do you ever laugh with your close friends, and how does this make you feel? Have you ever been in an argument with someone, felt isolated, and experienced laughter bringing you all together? Do you prefer to work with or for people who laugh or are angry? Why do you think that is?
  • Spiritual benefits. Have you ever experienced nature laughing? Or a state of peace and oneness with all after a good laugh?
  • If you have never experienced any of the above, do you know or have you heard of people who have?

The best way to talk about the science of laughter is not to repeat something you’ve read but rather to share your personal experience because nobody can argue against that.

Click here to learn more

Watch this 25-minute BBC documentary on the benefits of laughter

Equally interesting is the story of Norman Cousins and the movie and documentary that came out of that.

Did you say D.O.S.E.?

  • Dopamine: A neurotransmitter that plays a part in controlling the movements a person makes, as well as their emotional responses. The right balance of dopamine is vital for both physical and mental well-being.
  • Oxytocin: A hormone and a neurotransmitter that is involved in childbirth and breastfeeding. It has long been known as the warm, fuzzy hormone that promotes social bonding and well-being. It is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone” because levels of oxytocin increase during hugging and orgasm.
  • Serotonin: An important chemical and neurotransmitter that has a wide variety of functions in the human body. It is sometimes called the happy chemical because it contributes to well-being and happiness, among other things. As the precursor for melatonin, it helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles and the internal clock. It is believed to help regulate social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire. It appears to play a key role in maintaining mood balance. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression.
  • Endorphins: A wonder drug manufactured by the human body under stress (good or bad) and occasionally referred to as the hormone of happiness. Technically it’s a neurotransmitter found in the brain that has pain-relieving properties similar to morphine. According to the Journal of Immunology, endorphins can boost the immune system. Scientists have even discovered that beta-endorphins activate what is known as NK Cells (natural killer cells), which can potentially kill cancer cells. Endorphins also postpone the aging process.

Why is laughter contagious?

We don’t really know why genuine laughter is contagious, but there are 3 main hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: We can’t help it

  • Even though we laugh from all over our brain, the areas that control laughing lie deep in the sub-cortex, and in terms of evolutionary development, these parts of the brain are ancient, and are responsible for primal behaviors such as breathing and controlling basic reflexes. This means laughter control mechanisms are located a long way away from brain regions that developed later and control higher functions such as language or even memory. Perhaps this explains why it is so hard to suppress a laugh even if we know it is inappropriate, or why the brain responds even when we smile at ourselves in the mirror or simulate laughing with enthusiasm. Once a laugh is kindled deep within our brains these ‘higher function’ brain regions have trouble intervening.

Hypothesis 2: We are tuned for laughter

  • Humans may be “tuned” for laughter much in the same way that songbirds are “tuned” for song, especially their own specific family song. While birdsong of one species may sound the same to you and me, there are subtle differences between various individuals on that species. Certain nerve cells in the songbird’s brain “fire” in response to hearing his song. Perhaps humans have specialized nerve cells that respond to laughter. After all, laughter is a specialized vocalization, and we are “tuned” to respond to vocalizations with language.

Hypothesis 3: It’s because of mirror neurons

  • Another possible reason why laughter is contagious is because of mirror neurons. This is addressed in an article in Explore magazine entitled Strange Contagions: of Laughter, Jumps, Jerks, and Mirror Neurons (2010). The author, Larry Dossey, describes several cases of “laughter epidemics” and uncontrollable laughter called “laughing jags” (p. 119). The phenomenon that laughter is contagious is attributed to mirror neurons that fire in both the individual laughing and anyone witnessing the laughter.
  • Mirror neurons were discovered while studying the brains of macaque monkeys in the early 1990s. It was observed that the neurons on the frontal cortex of the monkey activated when he reached for a peanut. It was also observed that the same neurons fired when he merely witnessed the researcher reaching for a peanut. After such a discovery, the research was extended to humans and similar results were found. Dossey states that researchers now assume that mirror neurons fire during empathetic reflection of facial expressions and emotions, mimicry, and the acquisition of language. The author goes on to discuss the idea that laughter is contagious because of said empathetic reflection, a psychological premise that has been scientifically validated as a result of the discovery of mirror neurons. This may explain why and how people with a warm, genuine, voluminous laugh can get everybody around them to laugh just by laughing themselves with sincere enthusiasm.
  • Humor, in contrast with laughter, requires higher brain functions (right frontal cortex, medial ventral prefrontal cortex, the right and left posterior temporal regions, and possibly the cerebellum). This is why a sense of humor is a psychological trait that can respond to different types of humorous stimuli and therefore varies considerably between ages, genders, cultures, etc.

What the experts say about the importance of oxygen

  • Deep breathing techniques which increase oxygen to the cell are the most important factors in living a disease-free and energetic life… Remember: where cells get enough oxygen, cancer will not and cannot occur.” – Dr. Otto Warburg (Dr. Otto Warburg, President, Institute of Cell Physiology, Nobel Prize Winner. Dr. Warburg is the only person to ever win the Nobel Prize twice in medicine, and he was nominated for a third.)
  • Oxygen plays a pivotal role in the proper functioning of the immune system. We can look at oxygen deficiency as the single greatest cause of all diseases.” – Stephen Levine (Antioxidant Adaptation–Its Role in Free Radical Pathology, 1985.)
  • Breathing correctly is the key to better fitness, muscle strength, stamina, and athletic endurance.” – Dr. Michael Yessis (Dr. Michael Yessis, Ph.D., President Sports Training Institute, Fitness Writer – Muscle and Fitness Magazine.)
  • All body functions are breathing related. Proper oxygen delivery to all parts of your body is crucial to health and well-being. Aerobic exercise increases the body’s available oxygen and therefore promotes wellness. Delivering oxygen to the body is the responsibility of the respiratory system. Breathing is the process by which air enters the bloodstream through the lungs. Thus, proper breathing and correcting common breathing disorders is the ultimate form of aerobics.” –
    Dr. Robert Fried (Breath Connection, Insight Books, 1990, p. 52.)
  • “(Belly) Laughter creates convulsive reactions, which free up muscular tension within the body and charge and mobilize the voice and breathing.” – Alexander Lowen, father of Bioenergetic Psychotherapy.

More quotes from medical experts:

  • “Laughing creates a total body response that is clinically beneficial. It exercises the facial, chest, abdominal, and skeletal muscles and improves their tone (Paskind, 1932), which can be particularly important for bedridden or wheelchair-bound older people.” Professor A. Berk of Johns Hopkins University (The active ingredients in humor: psychophysiological benefits and risks for older adults.)
  • The magnitude of change we saw in the endothelium is similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic activity, but without the aches, pains, and muscle tension associated with exercise. We don’t recommend that you laugh and not exercise, but we recommend that you try to laugh regularly. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week and 15 minutes of laughter daily are probably good for the vascular system.” Michael Miller, M.D. (Director of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center) agrees and said after a study on the health impact of laughter.
  • Our findings show that the physiological effects of a single one-hour session viewing a humorous video appear to last anywhere from 12 to 24 hours in different individuals. This leads us to believe that by seeking out positive experiences that make us laugh, we can do much with our physiology to stay well.” ─ Lee Berk, DrPH, Assoc Res Pro Loma Linda School of Medicine.