Laughter is our universal language – every human across the globe as the capacity to laugh. The connection with other human beings and the release of happiness hormones and neurotransmitters is what makes the psychological benefits of laughter. It is a universally understood form of communication, indicating humour, amusement, or joy.
Laughter is more than just a form of expression and communication. Behind every laugh, there are a number of physical and psychological processes taking place that help us cope better in everyday situations.
When we laugh, we tend to feel happy and carefree, as though our troubles melt away, even if only briefly. This is partly explained by the release of endorphins, a group of neurohormones, that bring about a feeling of euphoria and reduce pain signals to the brain.
Research shows that level of endorphins in our brains rises when we laugh. This in turn brings about feelings of happiness, joy, and reduces feelings of stress and anger.
Laughter also has the capacity to combat negative emotions associated with depression, anxiety, and grief. In fact, research demonstrates laughter has a greater capacity to reduce anxiety than exercise.
The chemistry behind the benefits of laughter
As well as endorphins, laughter activates neurons that release the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is commonly thought of as our “reward hormone”. When released, it leads to feelings of relaxation and contentment.
Serotonin is commonly thought of as our “happiness hormone”, and when released in the brain leads to feelings of happiness, joy, and euphoria. The release of these neurotransmitters is correlated with the intensity and duration of laughter – in simple terms, the harder, louder, and longer we laugh, the better we feel.
Studies show regular laughter actually helps to improve our outlook on ourselves and the world around us. People who laugh more frequently often feel more confident in themselves, and have a greater sense of self-esteem. Furthermore, they also tend to have a more optimistic view of the world, providing a positive outlook.
A good laugh can also reduce the levels of our stress hormones, cortisol and noradrenaline. Not only does this reduce our feelings of stress or discomfort, at also helps to lower blood pressure, and allow better blood flow, particularly to the brain.
Improved blood flow brings oxygen and important nutrients to the neurons, but also helps wash out any wastes or toxins that build up slowly over the course of the day. In turn, this helps improve our cognitive processes, allowing us to think faster and clearer, and helps us to remember information for longer.
These stress hormones wreak havoc on our immune system, and suppress our body’s natural defenses. This is part of the reason why people who experience a great deal of stress and anxiety get sick more often than people who experience less stress.
Because laughter reduces the level of these stress hormones in the blood, it actually allows the immune system to grow and develop. Although scientific research has only recently had the capacity to demonstrate this, it is something that has been understood for a long time – and is probably the reason why people say laughter is the best medicine.
Laughter is also a social phenomenon. We tend to laugh more when we are in conversation or in large groups with other people – in fact, research has shown we laugh 30 times more with other people than when we are alone. This is partly because laughter is ‘contagious’, once one person starts laughing, we find it hard to stop ourselves from joining in.
It isn’t surprising to know that laughter helps to strengthen our relationships. Think about it – would you rather spend time with people who make you laugh or people who don’t?
This could explain why the most common request people add to a ‘looking for’ dating profile is for someone who makes them laugh. Psychological researchers use the term ‘micro-moment’ to describe the positive connections we feel to other people when we laugh with them.
There are a number of different forms of laughter, potentiated by different moods and situations. Surprisingly, research has found all forms of laughter can have these benefits. It doesn’t matter if we are laughing at a joke, or faking our laughter, we still feel better off afterwards.
How to increase our time laughing
Now that we understand a broad range an benefits of laughing, lets have a look at different ways to increase our time laughing.
- Go where the laughter is. Comedy shows aren’t only on during the Comedy Festival, they go throughout the year. Find a suitable night at a comedy club and go with a friend.
- Host a games night. Have some friends over and pull out some board games. You’ll be laughing for hours!
- Practice ‘Laughter Yoga’, a practice whereby people simulate laughter (fake laughing) – it might sound strange, but research shows it is more beneficial for alleviating symptoms of depression than exercise in some people
- Watch a standup special on your favorite streaming service. There are loads of different standup comedy specials on Netflix and Stan, enough to satisfy all senses of humour. Get a friend over (remember, you laugh more with other people!), and settle in on the couch for a night of belly-aching laughs.
Check out more information about mental health in our blog.