As humans we are one of a few species that laughs and we laugh from the time we are babies. Our laughter spans age, gender, language and culture. As humans we make each other laugh and we emotionally respond to laughter in others. It goes without saying that our laughing is contagious. People are 30 times more likely to laugh in social situations than alone.
We have not only been laughing since biblical times – we have been reporting benefits to mind and body:
“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Proverbs 17:22
“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.” Michael Pritchard
“Laughter is a necessity in life that does not cost much, and the Old Ones say that one of the greatest healing powers in our life is the ability to laugh.” Larry P. Aitken, Native American Chippewa Tribe
We now have scientific evidence that what we suspected is true – laughter is physically, psychologically, and interpersonally powerful stuff.
The Study of Laughter
Gelotology is the study of laughter and its effects on the body, from a psychological and physiological perspective. Scientifically, laughter is defined as the physiological response to humor which consists of gestures and the production of a sound which our brain directs us to conduct simultaneously. When we laugh, changes occur in our brains and our bodies.
Researchers have found that laughter relaxes skeletal and cardiovascular muscles. The rapid breathing associated with laughter increases oxygen level and improves respiratory function. Laughter has been described as “internal jogging for all the major organs.”
Laughter has been associated with reduction of stress, anxiety and improvement to mood, self-esteem and coping skills.
“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” Jimmy Buffet
Most folks can more than relate to these sentiments. All of us have our own version of America’s Funniest Home Videos for which laughter was the only thing left to do – the necessary stress release valve.
You may have had the experience of entering a room where people are laughing and before long you are laughing without even knowing why. It is connection without words. Many researchers believe that the purpose of laughter is related to making and strengthening human connections. The more laughter, the more bonding and the more laughter – this may account for the contagion in laughing. It gives us pause to wonder what is or isn’t happening in a family, an office – even a church where there is no laughter.
“As a general rule, the freedom of any people can be judged by the volume of their laughter.”
Why We Laugh?
We know that although we all laugh, what we find funny can differ. It is often a function of age, gender, culture, experience and circumstance. Those studying laughter propose three theories for what we find humorous:
Cruelty Disguised as Laughter – when laughter is a cover for hostility, envy or disdain it is not funny. Laughing at the expense of someone else, at someone who doesn’t find it funny is assaultive– it creates stress and benefits no one.
“Laughter is the Shortest Distance between Two People” Victor Borge
Recently a woman, who together with her partner of many years has been trying to salvage a very devastated marriage, reported that “Something different is happening – We are laughing. We never laughed.”
“We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh.”
The value of laughter has become so recognized that it has been formerly offered as Laughter Therapy, Laughter Meditation, Humor Therapy and the World Laughter Tour. All promote the recognition and use of laughter as a personal coping skill, a resiliency factor and a therapeutic agent for physical, psychological and social well being.
Are You Making Use of The Benefits of Laughter?
Who makes you laugh? Who do you make laugh? It’s like sharing vitamins
Can you laugh at yourself? It actually equates to self-acceptance and forgiveness. If you can laugh when you find the cream cheese in the sock drawer – you know it’s going to be a good day.
Do you have a favorite and predictable source of laughter be it a sitcom, cartoon, radio show or website that gives you a daily dose of “aerobic humor?”
Can you find the humor in absurd situations? According to Erma Bombeck – If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.
Do you have reminders around you (calendars, screen savers, quotes etc.) that actually shift your mood and trigger laughter. Given the different arguments about what was edible in the refrigerator of one family, the mother posted a magnetized sign on the refrigerator door “If it walks out- Let it go.”
Do you look for opportunities to share something funny? Re-visiting and sharing situations or material that is funny to you generally invites sharing by others – it turns a group into a party. It turns an email into a back and forth chuckle.
Can you look toward your children as sources of genuine delight and laughter? A good laugh is sunshine in a house.
Do you appreciate the daily dose of laughter most pets provide? Dogs laugh back with their tails! Cats don’t let us know they are laughing.
Do you carry laughter everywhere you go? Try it.
Laughter Is An Inexhaustible Resource That We All Share.
Keep Laughing – It’s Powerful Stuff.
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Last reviewed: 22 Dec 2010