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The Physiological and Psychological Benefits of Laughter

How laughter enhances mental and physical health

Molly Harrison

We've probably all heard the saying that "laughter is medicine." It turns out that old adage may be more true than we realized. Getting a few good belly laughs can be quite beneficial for both your physical and mental health.

What Are the Benefits of Joy and Laughter?

Our bodies release a whole inner pharmacy of feel-good chemicals when we laugh. The effects of laughter positively change both body chemistry and brain function. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the short-term benefits of laughter include increasing your intake of oxygen-rich air, which stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles; increasing endorphin release and decreasing the stress hormone cortisol; decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure; and stimulating circulation and muscle relaxation, which can help reduce physical forms of stress.

If you are committed to daily doses of joyful guffaws, the long-term benefits of laughter can include improving your immune system, relieving pain, increasing personal satisfaction, aiding with coping skills, improving your mood and decreasing feelings of anxiety and depression.

“Laughter therapy is a universal non-pharmacologic approach to reduce stress and anxiety,” proclaimed the researchers in this laughter study from the National Institute of Health website. “Therapeutic laughter is a non-invasive, cost-effective and easily implementable intervention that can be … a useful supplementary therapy to reduce mental health burdens.”

Another benefit of laughter is that it creates social connections. A shared laugh brings joy and lightness to a moment and can create an unforgettable bond. This study proved that shared social laughter elevates pain thresholds as it facilitates social bonding.

Is Laughter a Good Medicine?

Of course, laughing is easy when things are going well. It is more difficult to conjure up laughter when you are depressed, anxious or physically unwell. But it’s not impossible, and laughter during these difficult times can have profound benefits.

Journalist and professor Norman Cousins discovered laughter as a method for healing in 1964 when he was diagnosed with a debilitating and painful disease that conventional medicine could not effectively treat. Cousins decided to medicate himself with mood-elevating laughter through movies and TV shows. To his (and everyone else's) surprise, laughter really did help him heal. And after laughing his way back to health, Cousins became a laughter advocate. Although Cousins did not want people to think they could make mental or health problems disappear through laughter alone, he did advocate for using laughter as a powerful healing aid.

When scientists began looking for an explanation for Cousins’ recovery, they developed the new field of psychoneuroimmunology, the study of how your thoughts and feelings affect the chemicals in your brain, which affects the hormones that fight disease. Cousins and countless others have proven that laughter can be essential to health.

How to Incorporate Laughter Medicine Into Your Daily Life

You don’t need to spend hours watching comedy shows or sitcoms to reap the benefits of laughter. There are many ways to incorporate some feel-good belly laughs into your daily routine. In fact, according to Cousins, just 10 minutes of “genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect.” Here are a few ideas to help you get started: 

Smile

It’s not exactly the same as laughing, but one smile can go a long way. Try letting loose with a broad smile (as if you are on the verge of laughing) a few times a day. More often than not, simply smiling can quickly turn into a healthy giggle. 

Start Joking

Some comedians say that there are nine different types of humor. These include physical/slapstick, self-deprecating, surreal/absurd, improvisational and wit/wordplay. Figure out which kind of humor is your favorite, and start cracking jokes. If you’re unsure where to start, try Googling some corny knock knock or dad jokes. Better yet, start asking the people around you to share their favorite jokes. 

Schedule Time for Laughter

Include laughter as part of your self-care routine. Play board games with your family, invite some friends over for a dance party, look for silly greeting cards, funny cartoons, or absurd memes and send them to your significant other, make time to cuddle up and watch a funny movie or show, or listen to a humorous podcast. 

Be More Spontaneous

Spontaneity leaves lots of room for the unknown, which can often lead to awkward giggles. Say yes to things outside your comfort zone, and laugh at yourself as you learn. If you’re feeling really adventurous, try attending a laughter yoga class.


Molly Harrison loves her life on a sandbar in the Atlantic Ocean. Her home, Nags Head, is on a barrier island as far east as you can get in North Carolina, and she spends as much time as possible in and on the water, at the beach, and in the maritime forests. In between, she works as a freelance writer and editor, yoga instructor, retreat leader, and Reiki practitioner. Her passions are helping people feel their best through exercise, energy healing, and nature. 


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