A good sense of humor won't cure all ailments, but data is mounting about the positive effects of laughter. It doesn't matter if you are full-on belly laughing or quietly giggling, laughter has short- and long-term benefits for the mind and body.

Short-term Benefits

A good laugh can help you feel better in the moment. Laughter can:

  1. Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air. This stimulates and benefits your heart, lungs, brain, and entire body.1-4
  2. Activate and relieve your stress response. Laughter fires up and then cools down your stress response. It also increases then decreases your heart rate and blood pressure. This results in a good, relaxed feeling.1-4

In fact, simply hearing laughter might calm the body's stress response. One small study showed that hearing laughter seemed to engage the body's parasympathetic nervous system.5 This nervous system helps you rest and lowers your heart rate, producing a relaxing effect.

  1. Soothe tension. Laughter accelerates circulation and helps muscles relax, which can reduce the physical symptoms of stress.1-4
  2. Increase serotonin. Laughing activates the release of serotonin, which affects your entire body.1,3,6 Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. Serotonin enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other, and it helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion.
  3. Increase endorphins. Laughing releases endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain.1,3,4,7

Long-term Effects

Laughter isn't just a quick pick-me-up. It's also good for you long-term. Laughter has been shown to:

  1. Relieve pain. Laughter might help ease pain by releasing endorphins.1,3,4,7
  2. Reduce stress hormones. Cortisol is a primary stress hormone that circulates throughout the body when you’re stressed. Laughter can decrease cortisol levels by increasing your intake of oxygen and stimulating circulation throughout the body.1,3,4
  3. Improve the immune system. Negative thoughts can manifest into chemical reactions that affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing immune function. By contrast, feelings of joy, laughter, and positive thoughts can release chemical messengers called neuropeptides that fight stress and aid the immune system in preventing or fighting illnesses.1,3,8,9
  4. Improve relationships. In general, laughter helps individuals connect and creates a sense of togetherness and safety.1-3, 8 Studies show that couples who laugh together report having higher quality relationships and they stay together longer.10,11
  5. A report that analyzed 39 studies on the importance of humor in relationships – involving more than 15,000 participants – indicates that it’s less about being a jokester and more about finding a style of humor that makes you and your partner laugh. It's finding what's funny in everyday life and enjoying it together.12
  6. Protect the heart. A cross-sectional study of more than 20,000 individuals, ages 65 or older, living in Japan showed that laughter is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Even after adjusting for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, depression, body mass index, and other risk factors, the prevalence of heart disease among those who never or almost never laugh was 1.21-times higher than those who reported laughing every day. In addition, the rate of having a stroke was 1.6-times higher among those who laughed less frequently.13 
  7. Improve mood. Laughter can lessen depression, anxiety, and help you feel happier in the long run.1-4, 9

Revitalize Your Sense of Humor

Do you think you have an under-developed – or non-existent – sense of humor? No problem. Humor can be developed.8 Use these tips to put more laughter into your life.

  1. Share a laugh with friends. Make it a habit to spend time with friends who make you laugh. The endorphin effect explains, in part, why social laughter is contagious. When someone starts laughing, others will also laugh, even if they’re not sure what everyone is laughing about.2-4,7  
  2. Put humor into your day. Find a few simple items that make you smile or chuckle – photos, greeting cards, comic strips – and hang them where you can see them. Watch funny movies, TV shows, or videos. Simply watching a video of a baby or other person laughing can put a smile on your face. Listen to a humorous podcast or read a funny story. Go to a comedy club.1-4, 8  
  3. Practice laughing. Give laughter yoga a try. In laughter yoga, people practice laughing as a group. Laughter might be forced at first, but soon turns into spontaneous, genuine, feel-good laughter.3,8,9 Study results show that laughter therapy – a type of therapy that uses humor to help relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve a person’s sense of well-being – can increase serotonin and reduce depression.3,6
  4. Know what isn't funny. Laughter that taunts another person is different than joyous laughter. That kind of laughter creates different reactions in the brain and body that don't have the same effects of laughter that is shared and joyous.2,8,14 Don't laugh at the expense of others, and use your best judgment to discern a good joke from one that is hurtful. Science can track and measure the physical effects of laughter. But you don't need a petri dish and a lab coat to realize the benefits of a good laugh. Laughter is a natural aspect of being human – we're supposed to laugh. Find a way to giggle, laugh, or guffaw – every day if you can – and enjoy its benefits.  

References

  1. Savage BM, Lujan HL, Thipparthi RR, DiCarlo SE. Humor, laughter, learning, and health! A brief review. Adv Physiol Educ 2017;41(3):341-347. 
  2. Create joy and satisfaction. Mental Health America. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/create-joy-and-satisfaction. [Accessed December 3, 2021.]
  3. Yim J. Therapeutic benefits of laughter in mental health: A theoretical review. Tohoku J Exp Med 2016;239(3):243-249. 
  4. Lopes-Júnior LC, Bomfim E, Olson K, et al. Effectiveness of hospital clowns for symptom management in paediatrics: systematic review of randomised and non-randomised controlled trials. BMJ 2020;371:m4290 
  5. Fujiwara Y, Okamura H. Hearing laughter improves the recovery process of the autonomic nervous system after a stress-loading task: A randomized controlled trial. Biopsychosoc Med 2018;12:22. 
  6. Cha MY, Hong HS. Effect and path analysis of laughter therapy on serotonin, depression and quality of life in middle-aged women. J Korean Acad Nurs 2015;45(2):221-230.
  7. Manninen S, Tuominen L, Dunbar RI, et al. Social laughter triggers endogenous opioid release in humans. J Neurosci 2017;37(25):6125-6131.
  8. Seaward BL. Comic relief: The healing power of humor. In: Essentials of Managing Stress. 5th ed. Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2021.
  9. van der Wal CN, Kok RN. Laughter-inducing therapies: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Soc Sci Med 2019;232:473-488.
  10. Otero MC, Wells JL, Chen KH, et al. Behavioral indices of positivity resonance associated with long-term marital satisfaction. Emotion 2020;20(7):1225-1233.  
  11. Kurtz LE, Algoe SB. Putting laughter in context: shared laughter as behavioral indicator of relationship well-being. Pers Relatsh 2015;22(4):573-590. 
  12. Hall JA. Humor in romantic relationships: A meta-analysis. Pers Relatsh 2017;24(2):306-322. 
  13. Hayashi K, Kawachi I, Ohira T, et al. Laughter is the best medicine? A cross-sectional study of cardiovascular disease among older Japanese adults. J Epidemiol 2016;26(10):546-552. 
  14. Kreifelts B. Different types of laughter modulate connectivity within distinct parts of the laughter perception network. PLoS One 2013;8(5):e63441.