What happens to us when we start laughing? Why do we feel so good when we do, and what benefits does a good attack of the giggles have for our bodies and minds? Today on International Day of Happiness, we’re going to find out!
Test your own laughing potential with our self-test in this article, learn why laughing is of utmost importance for us as humans and how laughing regularly can even improve our balance (which is great for fall prevention). We’ve also included some jokes to get you started on your way to healing with laughter or simply to provide you with some funny material for your next social event.
Join us on a journey that will definitely put a smile on your face!
The Power of Laughter and the Science behind it
It’s probably safe to say that we’ve all heard things like “It’s better to laugh than to cry” or “come on, turn that frown upside down” growing up. What is the science behind the benefits of laughter? We definitely feel better when we start to laugh or when we make someone else laugh, so something must be happening in our little grey cells. But what?
Robert Provine, Ph.D is a neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology at the university of Maryland, Baltimore in the US. He specializes in the development and evolution of the nervous system and behaviour including social human behaviour. “Laughter is far from mere reactions to jokes, it’s an innate and important social tool”, says the Professor. After 10 years of researching the science behind laughter, Professor Provine came to the following conclusion:
“Laughter is primarily a social vocalization that binds people together. It is a hidden language that we all speak. It is not a learned group reaction but an instinctive behaviour programmed by our genes. Laughter bonds us through humour and play.”
His research also shows that laughter is very difficult to control consciously, which suggests that we do not have the ability to deliberately activate the brain’s mechanism for effective expression. More laughter is marked by social settings that include playfulness, being in a group and having a positive emotional tone. The fact that laughter is contagious is tied to the neurological mechanism of laugh detection, which implies that humans have an auditory laugh detector, a neutral circuit that causes us in turn to produce laughter. Hence the important social aspect of having a good laugh!
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.” Charles Dickens
The Power of Laughter
Let’s take a look at some concrete benefits laughter has on our bodies and minds:
- Endorphins: are a group of hormones in our brain with several physiological functions that activate our opiate receptors causing an analgesic effect. Recent studies show that especially social laughter releases endorphins in our brains. So laughing with other people releases endorphins via opioid receptors. This is similar to the way some drugs bind to those receptors, indicating that laughing in a social context produces euphoria like the feeling that drugs produce!
- Antidepressant: Research shows that laughing produces the release of neurotransmitter Serotonin. That’s the same brain chemical affected by most common types of antidepressants. Even though this release is potent, scientists do not know how long the effect lasts.
- Heart protection: It has been said that laughter has an anti-inflammatory effect which provides protection to heart muscles and blood vessels. Even though we do not know if this is completely true, it certainly doesn’t hurt us!
- Abdominal muscles: We will look at this in more detail later in the article, but when you’re laughing, the muscles in your belly expand and contract! That’s why many people hold their stomachs when they have an attack of the giggles!
- Lowers stress levels: laughing can significantly reduce the level of stress hormones, making you feel more relaxed and setting into motion all the benefits that are related to low stress. We will look at this in more depth further down the article.
“I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” Maya Angelou
Before we continue to look at all the benefits of laughing for us humans, (especially when it comes to reducing stress) we want you to have a quick look at the video below. Before you do, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I feel stressed right now? If yes, did this change once you’d seen the video?
- Is laughing really contagious? Did the video make you laugh?
- Can you feel your abs now? How about after watching the video?
- Do you feel happier than you did before watching the video?
Preferably watch the entire video, but watch at least until minute 1, trust us!
So? Did you laugh? How did it make you feel? If you feel better (let’s face it, it’s very likely you do, especially after watching the last lady in the video) maybe what we discuss below is something you’ll enjoy.
Laughter Yoga Therapy
Stress is one of those silent “evildoers” that can do a lot of damage to a person’s body and mind if they’re not careful. Whether you suffer from acute or chronic stress, both should be addressed as soon as possible, as stress can result in anxiety and depression and affect almost all bodily systems (the heart and blood vessels, immune system, lungs, digestive system, sensory organs and the brain). For seniors, this can be especially bad, as our bodies aren’t as resilient in our golden years as they are earlier in life. So, how can laughter help us reduce our stress levels?
“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” Robert Frost
According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre, we should use humour!
“Research has shown that humour is a very effective mechanism for coping with acute stress. Keeping a sense of humour during difficult situations is a common recommendation of stress management experts. Laughter not only releases the tension of pent-up feelings and helps a person maintain perspective, but it also appears to have actual physical effects that reduce stress hormone levels. It is not uncommon for people to laugh intensely during tragic events, such as the death of a loved one, because this laughter helps them endure the emotional pain of the experience.”
Let’s sum up the benefits of humour and laughing in relation to stress:
- Laughing helps a person maintain perspective
- Laughing releases the tension of pent-up feelings
- Laughing helps you endure the emotional pain of a tragic event
- Laughing has actual physical effects that reduce stress hormone levels
Now, it can be difficult to just stop stressing and start laughing! Especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all. Fortunately, there are lots of things out there that can help. For example, laughter therapy or laughter yoga therapy.
What is Laughter Yoga Therapy?
Source : https://www.wikihow.com/Laugh
Wikipedia gives the following definition: “(Hasyayoga) is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. Laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughter yoga is done in groups, with eye contact, jokes and playfulness between participants. Forced laughter soon turns into real and contagious laughter.”
Developed by Indian physician Madan Kataria and his wife, yoga teacher Madhuri, Hasyayoga promotes a general feeling of well-being which is of utmost importance, especially for seniors, to feel validated and contribute to having a full life.
Ok, it might look a bit strange and awkward in the beginning, but don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it! The people who do this kind of yoga are extremely positive about it. Let’s look at their experiences with it and a brief explanation by founder and president of Living Laughter yoga coach Liliana De Leo.
Now, that looked like fun, didn’t it?
This type of laughing therapy is ideal for those with reduced mobility as you can easily do the exercise sitting down. Look at the following example of some exercises for elderly people who want to remain seated:
Remember, laughing yoga has all the same benefits as laughter; it’s a cheerful way to be social and on top of that, it’s physical exercise! Do you feel inspired to give it a try? This link will give you some ideas on how to find laughter clubs near you. Even if there aren’t any in your town, there’re lots of free on-line and even phone laughter clubs you can try out!
Laughter and your balance health
In conclusion, we’ve seen that laughter is very positive for our general health, and a healthy dose of regular laughing should be part of all of our daily diets.
When we think about fall prevention, laughing more is not something that comes to mind immediately. However, it is a tool that we (especially seniors) can use to prevent falls.
How does laughing prevent falling?
- As we saw at the beginning of this article, when we laugh we’re also exercising our abs, which in turn will strengthen our core and create better balance, thus reducing the risk of seniors falling. It’s also especially beneficial to exercise these specific muscles when you suffer from asthma or bronchitis and we all know how falling can result in an array of other problems and health complications.
- Laughing is one of the best stress relief and anxiety prevention exercises out there. We stop being tense due to an overall sense of wellbeing because of all the positivity laughing promotes, our bodies are more relaxed as well. A relaxed mind will result in a relaxed body, anxiety will be less and this results in feeling surer of ourselves and thus we’ll be less likely to fall.
Some jokes to get you started
Do you feel inspired to laugh after reading this? We’ll help you get started by providing some of the funniest jokes we found! Enjoy and don’t forget to spread the joy, as laughing with others is much more beneficial and much more fun! Of course, humour is subjective, so we hope you’ll like these suggestions:
A guy is sitting at home when he hears a knock at the door. He opens the door and sees a snail on the porch. He picks up the snail and throws it as far as he can. Three years later there’s a knock on the door. He opens it and sees the same snail. The snail says: ‘What the hell was that all about?’
Three guys stranded on a desert island find a magic lantern containing a genie, who grants them each one wish. The first guy wishes he was off the island and back home. The second guy wishes the same. The third guy says: ‘I’m lonely. I wish my friends were back here.’
A guy shows up late for work. The boss yells, ‘You should’ve been here at 8.30!’ He replies. ‘Why? What happened at 8.30?’
I told my wife she was drawing her eyebrows too high. She looked surprised.
Classic “dad” jokes:
A ham sandwich walks into a bar and orders a beer. Bartender says: “sorry we don’t serve food here”.
Why do chicken coops only have two doors? Because if they had four, they would be chicken sedans!
Two peanuts were walking down the street. One was a salted.