Many have heard that laughter prolongs life. But is there any scientific evidence that the manifestation of joy has a beneficial effect on human health and well-being, or is it just another myth?
Why should we laugh
It is clear that life without humor becomes gloomy and contributes to stress, and stress can cause almost any disease. But most of us do not even realize that the phrase about the healing properties of laughter has very real scientific evidence. Recently, scientists have increasingly found evidence that people whose lives lack healthy humor are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases.
Scientists believe that laughter, especially spontaneous, can not only improve mood, but also prevents a variety of ailments. In addition, during laughter, substances are produced in the body that create an analgesic effect.
Sincere laughter restores a positive emotional mood, and also helps to establish a connection between people. Some researchers even believe that the main function of laughter is to unite people.
What happens to the body when we laugh
Each of us knows the saying that laughter is health. But few people realize how much truth is contained in these words. French neurologist Henri Rubinstein has been studying laughter for many years. In 2003, he wrote the book “The Psychosomatics of Laughter”, where he described in detail its effect on physiological and psychological processes in the body.
Laughter affects many organs of our body, improving their functioning. Take, for example, the respiratory system. When we start laughing, instead of the usual 1 liter of air, we inhale about one and a half. How is this good? The fact that the body is stronger and more quickly saturated with oxygen.
During laughter, breathing increases, heart rate increases and blood pressure temporarily increases. Due to this effect, the blood circulates faster through the vessels and the body is also enriched with oxygen faster.
When we laugh, we activate the ribs and abdominal muscles, which, in turn, improves blood flow from the abdominal cavity towards the heart.
When a person smiles, the facial muscles are activated. And this is an excellent prevention of sagging skin and wrinkles.
In addition, during fun, the body increases the production of endorphins, otherwise known as happiness hormones. It has been proven that these substances help to relieve dental, headache and muscle pain.
Laughter relaxes the body, relieving tension and stress. Scientists have found that after a sincere laugh, the body remains in a state of relaxation for another 45 minutes.
In addition, laughter can be considered as a mild and rather specific form of physical activity. This is a kind of training for the muscles of the face, chest, shoulders, abdomen and diaphragm. It turns out that 10 minutes of laughter of moderate intensity allows you to burn about 50 kcal. That is why it is sometimes called “inner running”.
How laughter affects a person
After laughing, most of us feel much better. Why does this happen and how can a cheerful mood affect the work of different systems and organs of the human body?
Increases the pain threshold
Studies show that laughter helps to improve the well-being of people who are constantly experiencing pain, for example, caused by chronic diseases. The results of scientific observations allowed experts to conclude that the manifestation of joy reduces pain and helps to tolerate discomfort more easily. Scientists explain this fact by the phenomenon of distraction. Simply put, the laughing person is focused on another type of sensation, forgetting that something is hurting him. But there is another theory explaining the relationship between pain and laughter, based on the role of endorphins. The so-called hormones of happiness act as a natural painkiller, while causing a state of mild euphoria.
Protects the heart
Laughter improves the functioning of the cardiovascular system, is a good prevention of heart attacks and other cardiac problems. Experts have found that laughter has an anti-inflammatory effect, and also protects blood vessels and heart muscle, thereby preventing the development of cardiac disorders. The mechanism of the protective function of laughter for the cardiac system has not yet been sufficiently studied, but researchers suggest that the beneficial effect is achieved by reducing the body’s susceptibility to stress.
Improves brain function
There is evidence that joy and laughter improve brain function. In particular, a protein substance known in science as a neurotrophic factor is released in the brain of laughing people, which stimulates the growth of new neurons and improves the interaction between them. In the course of studying the nature of laughter, scientists have also found that different types of this emotion activate different parts of the brain. So, benevolent humor and caustic ridicule activate completely different parts of the brain. In other words, any kind of laughter is always a “warm-up” for the brain.
Strengthens the immune system
Data from some scientific studies suggest that laughter increases the body’s resistance to infections. To prove this theory, scientists conducted an experiment with the participation of two groups of volunteers. Some were offered to watch a comedy, others – a drama film. After the screening, it turned out that the number of antibodies responsible for resisting respiratory infections increased in the body of those who watched the comedy.
The theory of the influence of positive emotions on immunity was confirmed by the results of other scientific experiments. This time, scientists have found confirmation that 60 minutes of sincere laughter helps to improve the functioning of the immune system over the next 12 hours.
Normalizes sugar levels
During laughter, the amount of sugar in the blood decreases, glucose tolerance increases, which is very useful for people with diabetes. On the contrary, negative emotions, such as anger and sadness, lead to an increase in blood glucose. Scientists explain the beneficial effect of laughter on the blood sugar levels of diabetics by strengthening muscle function and affecting the endocrine system.
Stress is called the main scourge of our time. But scientists have found a way to effectively and, most importantly, pleasantly deal with the consequences of stressful situations. Experts advise just to laugh. Humor helps to create a positive mood and is an excellent “antidote” in stressful situations. And all because during laughter, stress hormones stop being produced in the body.
Increases stress resistance
Stress-resistant people perceive any failures not as a personal defeat, but as one of the stages on the way to success. Stress resistance makes a person more successful and happy. Laughter helps to develop this quality. The ability to admit your own mistakes without getting upset and the ability to laugh at yourself help a person to perceive stressful situations more easily.
It acts as a natural antidepressant
Humor is the best way to get out of depression. This emotion affects the human body in the same way as antidepressants. Laughter activates the release of serotonin (another name is the hormone of happiness). But so far, scientists cannot say with certainty how long the antidepressant effect of laughter on the brain persists.
By the way, not only sincere, but also forced laughter (when a person smiles without much desire) will help to overcome depression. It turns out that even such “forced” laughter contributes to the release of neuropeptides and dopamine, which also lead to an improvement in mood.
In addition, during laughter, endorphins are produced in the body. These are natural morphine-like compounds that increase the pain threshold, cause a sedative effect and a feeling of mild euphoria. And this explains why people usually feel better after laughing.
Improves mental health
Laughter helps a person feel good, but importantly, this feeling persists for quite a long time even after the laughter subsides. Humor helps to maintain optimism in difficult life situations. This is more than just a release from sadness and pain. It helps to find the strength and courage to face life’s difficulties. In the most difficult times, even a forced smile helps to improve your mood.
A person is simply not able to feel anxiety, anger or sadness when laughing. Laughter causes an influx of energy and helps to increase concentration. And not so long ago, researchers discovered another very interesting fact. It turns out that through the prism of laughter, a person can view the problem in a more realistic light. That is why many psychologists advise to laugh at the problem, after which it will not seem so terrible and unsolvable. And of course, friendly humor helps to resolve conflict situations and sets the interlocutor up for more friendly communication.
What is laughter therapy?
In different centuries, doctors and researchers have studied the effect of humor on the body. This is how the practice of laughter treatment appeared – laughter therapy, or geotology.
Nowadays, laughter therapy is resorted to in different countries. Most often, this practice is used in children’s hospitals when clowns or funny acting groups come to young patients. Experts say that after such visits, the well-being of patients really improves. There are also laughter therapy sessions designed for adults.
The theory of the influence of humor on human health in traditional medicine has been considered for quite a long time. One of the first to recognize the importance of laughter was the French surgeon Henri de Mondeville. Back in the XIII century, he promoted postoperative laughter therapy. In the twentieth century, Norman Cousins, a lecturer at the Medical Faculty of the University of California, who studied the biochemistry of emotions, made an important contribution to the study of the influence of humor on the well-being of patients. He offered patients a special treatment program – laughter therapy. According to Cousins’ theory, a 10-minute laugh promotes a calm 2-hour sleep without any painful sensations (this is achieved due to the analgesic effect of laughter).
In recent decades, the processes occurring in the body during laughter have been studied by many other specialists besides Cousins. They also found evidence that laughter has analgesic properties, and the pain threshold for people who laugh often is much higher than that of most sullen people. Scientists have also found that joyful emotion helps to fight depression and increases immunity. In addition, humor has been found to help normalize blood pressure, glucose and adrenaline levels. Experts have reason to believe that laughter even helps in the prevention and recovery after cancer treatment, and also increases the body’s resistance to respiratory infections. The whole reason is that, as it turned out, during laughter, T cells and gamma interferon (elements of the immune system) are more actively produced in the body.
Laughter has many protective qualities. This is one of the best ways to resist stress, develop and improve psychological stability. The therapeutic properties of laughter are highly appreciated in India. There, since 1995, they have been practicing the so-called yoga of laughter, or hasya yoga. All that is required of the participants of such a lesson is to laugh, sincerely, from the heart. Proponents of such an unusual therapy claim that hasya yoga, in addition to relieving stress and anxiety, makes a person happier, improves the quality of sleep. In addition, laughter yoga is considered useful for people with Parkinson’s disease.
In addition, according to researchers, humor is a powerful anti-aging medicine. Scientific data indicate that neurofibrillary tangles (accumulation of protein substances in the brain, formed in Alzheimer’s disease) appear less often in the organisms of lovers of laughing heartily. And Norwegian researchers are convinced that merry men have a better chance of living to a ripe old age. According to the observations of scientists, people with a good sense of humor predominate among centenarians. Scientists have also found that the effectiveness of cancer treatment is higher in people with a good sense of humor.
Laughter is a powerful medicine against stress and pain. Nothing can restore balance to the mind and body faster and easier than a good laugh. Humor helps you focus and forget about your anger faster. That’s why laughter is an invaluable medicine available to everyone.