Turns out laughter really is the best medicine
Guffawing and snorting, wiping tears from your eyes and snot from your nose… carrying on cackling for so long your jaw and cheeks hurt… having a proper laugh makes us feel good. And unlike lots of things that make us feel good, it does us good, too. In summer, I went to a pub quiz for the first time in 18 months, it felt like old times (except the pub wasn’t as crowded) and I laughed a lot. It was therapeutic.
We feel happier and more relaxed after a hearty chortle, and it has that effect on our bodies, too, by reducing the production of stress hormones, and boosting the release of feel-good endorphins. Several studies show that it lowers blood pressure. Laughing also stimulates circulation and helps muscles to relax, both of which can also help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress. After the bleakness of Brexit, the pandemic, rising fuel prices and falling stock levels in shops, we all need a good laugh.
But laughter’s benefits aren’t just on mood; it also affects us physically. Laughing heartily uses your diaphragm, which acts like a massage for your internal organs. Laughing can relieve pain, too, and has been shown to curb allergic response in people with atopic dermatitis. A 20-second belly laugh can be as beneficial for your lungs as three minutes on a rowing machine, according to research, and can help strengthen your stomach muscles.
And, usefully for the winter season of coughs, colds (and that more recent C-word), research has found that laughter’s effects can help fight viruses and bacteria, and also increase the antibodies that attack upper respiratory tract infections.
And simply having a good sense of humour could help you live longer. A 15-year Norwegian study of more than 50,000 people found that those who find plenty to laugh about are more likely to live longer, even after accounting for serious illness and infections.
You have to laugh, or else you cry
We seem to see the positive effects of conveying laughter in texts, emails and social media. Introduced in 2011, the crying-with-laughter emoji topped charts of the most-used emoji until this year. In 2015 it was chosen by the Oxford Dictionary as its ‘word of the year’ (I’m obviously not the first to object that it’s not actually a word). I know it’s one I use a lot, and in online chat with my current remote-working colleagues (most of whom have never met), it certainly helps team bonding.
Smile and the world smiles with you
Laughter is contagious, and, as I’ve experienced above, it also encourages social bonding. As comedian and pianist Victor Borge once wrote, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” (As a child, I used to beg my opera-loving dad to put on his record of Borge’s Phonetic Punctuation routine, which you can watch here.
Add more laughter to your life by watching or listening to something that you find funny, visit a comedy club, or simply plan a get-together with people who share your GSOH.
You could perhaps try ‘laughter yoga’, which involves getting a group to start laughing, for the mental, social, physical and emotional benefits. Laughter Therapy offers in-person and Zoom sessions.
Even if you’re alone and not seeing the funny side, forcing a hearty, if fake, laugh will bring you some of the benefits of genuine hysterics.
And finally, it’s good to have things around you that make you smile, like these super-cool wooden stools designed for Benchmark by Jaime Haydon.
Adrienne Wyper is a health and lifestyle writer and regular TNMA contributor.