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Laughter and Health - some background reading

Stress, misery, depression and the internal thoughts made flesh; there are many views and a lot of empirical evidence on the way that laughter and smiling can be used to make people healthier, this page looks at some established views. It is too clearly evidenced to be denied, that the world mirrors how you feel; for example by how cynical and depressed people create their own and others continued ill humour, and often ill health, by their way of looking at the world...
...and how optimists and happy people develop faces and characters that are attractive and attract friends. The world does not make you the way you are - it reflects how you are.

Charles Shultz's "Peanuts", made some admittedly trite, but some sharply true, observations, such as this:

The way in which we can use our bodies to influence our moods is clear, but we tend to cling to our depression through fear of the unknown that is joy and freedom.

You may wish to dispute this, or back up your own established views, if so, the following may be useful.

Reported in the Guardian, April 2006, laughter really is the best medicine is a good start for a short read, but there's more...

for example, Oxytocin is a hormone (sometimes called the "cuddle hormone") that has been shown to be helpful for all sorts of healthy emotional life aspects - THIS site has interesting material on this hormone.

for the academically minded:

"Diverse literature suggests that effects of humour on various outcomes such as stress, health and immune function have been well-documented by empirical research and are therefore commonly accepted." - extract from THIS site is about the scientific approach ("Science" dogmatists are overly fond of triple blind trials - and other proofs, such as those that demonstrate scientifically that Bumblebees cannot fly - science is not always the best way to prove that laughing helps us feel better)

'What are you so happy about?'

Another misconception is that laughing is something we only do because we are happy. In fact, it's the other way around - we become happier by laughing. We laugh for lots of reasons: anger, frustration, fear, nervousness, boredom. and joy of course. In Laughter Clubs and Laughter Meditation we learn to laugh for no reason at all - except that it feels good and does our health a huge amount of good.

Laughter provides enjoyable exercise
It's a bit like an internal organ massage and leaves our internal organs invigorated and alert
(Other ways are hiccupping, coughing, sobbing and vomiting, so... given a choice.)
It provides isometric abdominal exercise to tone tummies
Laughter helps us stay healthy and even helps us manage pain or illness
Helps protects us from colds and viruses - increases the levels of antibodies (Immunogloblin A) in the nose and respiratory passages
Increases levels of natural killer (NK) cells and antibodies to boost the immune system
Stimulates production of lymphocytes containing T-cells that deal with cancer cells
Helps us to manage pain
Reduces blood pressure and heart rate if practiced regularly
Engages every major system of the body
Laughter helps us to feel good and look good (although not always at the time!)
Is one of the best muscle relaxants
Oxygenates our blood, increasing our 'feel good' factor;
Reduces stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol
Provides facial exercise and increases blood flow to the skin
Activates our tear glands to brighten up our eyes.

It's time to reclaim this natural method of healing. For instance, in the 1950s people laughed 18 minutes a day on average, whereas now the average is 6 minutes per day. Perhaps this lends some credence to the idea of "The Good Old Days". It certainly supports the fact that material wealth is most definitely not anything that promotes laughter.

Another source summarises medical aspects accepted by British empirical surveys

Laughter lowers blood pressure.
People who laugh heartily on a regular basis have lower standing blood pressure than the average person. When people have a good laugh, initially the blood pressure increases, but then it decreases to levels below normal. Breathing then becomes deeper which sends oxygen enriched blood and nutrients throughout the body.

Humour changes our biochemical state.
Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases infection fighting antibodies. It increases our attentiveness, heart rate, and pulse.

Laughter protects the heart.
Laughter, along with an active sense of humour, may help protect you against a heart attack, according to the study at the University of Maryland Medical Center (cited above). The study, which is the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease, found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.

Laughter gives our bodies a good workout.
Laughter can be a great workout for your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles. It massages abdominal organs, tones intestinal functioning, and strengthens the muscles that hold the abdominal organs in place. Not only does laughter give your midsection a workout, it can benefit digestion and absorption functioning as well. It is estimated that hearty laughter can burn calories equivalent to several minutes on the rowing machine or the exercise bike.
Humour improves brain function and relieves stress.
Laughter stimulates both sides of the brain to enhance learning. It eases muscle tension and psychological stress, which keeps the brain alert and allows people to retain more information.


Why Do We Laugh?

Philosopher, John Morreall believes that the first human laughter may have begun as a gesture of shared relief at the passing of danger. And since the relaxation that results from a bout of laughter inhibits the biological fight-or-flight response, laughter may indicate trust in one's companions.

Many researchers believe that the purpose of laughter is related to making and strengthening human connections. "Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free. And the more laughter [there is], the more bonding [occurs] within the group," says cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte. This feedback "loop" of bonding-laughter-more bonding, combined with the common desire not to be singled out from the group, may be another reason why laughter is often contagious.

Studies have also found that dominant individuals - the boss, the tribal chief or the family patriarch - use humour more than their subordinates. If you've often thought that everyone in the office laughs when the boss laughs, you're very perceptive. In such cases, Morreall says, controlling the laughter of a group becomes a way of exercising power by controlling the emotional climate of the group.
So laughter, like much human behavior, must have evolved to change the behavior of others, Provine says. For example, in an embarrassing or threatening situation, laughter may serve as a conciliatory gesture or as a way to deflect anger. If the threatening person joins the laughter, the risk of confrontation may lessen.

Professor Robert Provine of Maryland University is among only a few people who are studying laughter much as an animal behaviorist might study a dog's bark or a bird's song. He believes that laughter, like the bird's song, functions as a kind of social signal. Other studies have confirmed that theory by proving that people are 30 times more likely to laugh in social settings than when they are alone (and without pseudo-social stimuli like television).

this is a generally useful link - How stuff works - but as with all dogmatic pages on the web you need to be selective on the basis of good matches with other sources...enjoy,
and laugh while you read, optimists have much happier lives.