Humour, which includes positive attributes such as laughing, joking and bringing smiles to other people is one of the character strengths that contributes most strongly to life satisfaction. While most people know that we laugh spontaneously and in response to something we find funny, few recognise that deliberate and intentional laughter can bring about a wealth of health benefits.
Laughter provides the greatest effect on mental and psychological health.
- Reduce stress, tension, anxiety and depression
Studies show that muscles stay relaxed for up to 45 minutes after a good laugh. Laughing also stabilizes stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. Too much cortisol in our body can cause weight gain, give us acne, increase blood pressure and other health woes.
- Elevate mood, self-esteem, hope, energy and vigor.
Stanford University of Medicine discovered that humour and laughter produces endorphins which is considered a natural pain killer of the body. Laughter also increases blood circulation and decreases stress. Self-enhancing humour is described as a style whereby one is able to take a humorous perspective on life. It is self-accepting, non-detrimental to self and others. This type of humour can help to boost self esteem and guard against negative emotions.
- Enhances memory, creative thinking and problem solving.
Laughter plays an important role in the reward circuitry of our brain as it produces Dopamine, also known as the ‘reward hormone’ which makes you feel good and positive. Dopamine is responsible for regulating mood, motivation, learning and attention. Hence, when you are stressed and feel like you are in a fix, enjoying a few minutes of humour can help to renew motivation and focus when you return to work.
Humour can also improve your working memory. A research done by a University in Southern California amongst older adults found that those who were allowed to watch a funny video for 20 minutes before taking a test for short-term memory, performed better. They also experienced less stress compared to the other group who was not given the funny video to watch and just waited quietly before the test.
Laughter improves physiological health.
- Exercise and relax muscles.
Laughing will initially increase your heart rate and then help to decrease the heart rate as well as blood pressure.
- Improves respiration and stimulates circulation.
Laughing enhances the intake of oxygen rich air, stimulating your heart, lungs and muscles
- Increases immune system as stress levels decreases.
- Elevates pain threshold and tolerance
Humour also has positive effects on your social group and team.
- Improves interpersonal interaction, relationship, attraction and feeling of closeness.
Laughter has been shown to activate the oxytocin system which is known as the ‘cuddle hormone’ hence increasing positive pro-social behaviors such as trust, altruism, affiliation, empathy, and romantic relationships.
- Increases group identity, solidarity and cohesiveness.
Affiliative humour is a warm and benevolent style of humour that involves funny and non-hostile jokes that serve to amuse others in a respectful and accepting way. This style of humour can help to reduce conflict and increase group morale and cohesiveness.
Laugh away your stress
Studies have revealed that individuals with a good sense of humour are more realistic in appraising the stress in their lives than those with a poor sense of humour. People with a poor sense of humour may overestimate the threat of a situation and hence experience greater stress. Those who choose humour learn how to distance one-self from stressful life events and to re-appraise negative situations. One study even suggest that intellectually gifted students use humour more effectively to help feel positive emotions when dealing with the stresses of exam preparation.
Longitudinal studies have shown that humor skills can be trained. In as little as eight training sessions, individuals were better able to regulate daily positive emotions and experience better emotional well-being, optimism and self-control.
Have a laugh a day to keep your medical bills away.
Reference: Yim. J.E, (2016), Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. Department of Physical Therapy, Sahmyook University, Tohoku University Medical Press. Shamay-Tsoory, Simon.L, (2016) Understanding the Oxytocin System and Its Relevance to Psychiatry. Biological Psychiatry, Volume 79, Issue 3, 150-152. Manninen.S, Tuominen. L, Dunbar. R.I, Karjalainen.T, Hirvonen. J, Arponen.E, Hari.R, Jääskeläinen J.P, Sams.M, Nummenmaa.L,(2017) Journal of Neuroscience, 37 (25) 6125-6131; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0688-16.2017 Kuiper.N.A, (2012) Humor and Resiliency: Toward a Process Model of Coping and Growth. Europe's Journal of Psychology,Vol. 8(3), 475–491, doi:10.5964/ejop.v8i3.464 Feature image by Macrovector, www Freepik.com
This article explores the benefits of laughter and humour in general. Where a person is suffering from a medical or mental condition, we do not suggest that humour can be a replacement for proper medical treatment or professional therapy.