In this article:

The 4 Levels Of Physical Impact Of Laughter

  • Biophysically, through pressure waves
  • Biochemically, via neurotransmitters and hormones
  • Neurologically, through the transmission of nerve impulses
  • Energetically, through electromagnetic field interactions

How Laughter Benefits Human Life

  • Laughter and physical health
  • Laughter and mental health
  • Laughter and emotional health
  • Laughter and social health
  • Laughter and spiritual health

Where The Science Of Laughter Is Currently At
Why academic research on laughter was blocked until the 1980s

Who Benefits?

  • Education
  • Age-care
  • Business world
  • Health-care
  • Mental health
  • Special need groups

Laughter Quotes
More Laughter Quotes From The Medical Field

Why not do your own laughter research?

Laughter Trivia

The 4 Levels Of Physical Impact Of Laughter

1. Biophysically, through pressure waves

  • Exercise. Physical fitness stemming from laughter is a benefit known to few.  It’s a form of soft gymnastics that some people refer to as stationary jogging. The mere act of laughing exercises the diaphragm, as well as the abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles. This is because the diaphragm is the only muscle in the body attached to other muscles, which is why laughter jogs all your internal organs.  Laughter is particularly important for seniors as well as bedridden or wheelchair-bound people. It requires no special equipment, environment or clothing, and is a fun – rather than tedious – way to enhance one’s daily wellbeing.
  • Less stress, anxiety, tension. Laughter is the #1 natural enemy of bad stress because they are physiological opposites. The predominance of one tends to prevent the other. A clue to this may be found in the body’s typical actions after extreme stress of the fight or flight kind: deep panting and using laughter to make light of events that provoked fear. The predominance of one (deeper breathing and laughter) tends to prevent the other (fear).
  • More relaxation. All relaxation response is exhalation based. Laughter causes breathing that manifests as a brief inspiration followed by a pause, and then a long and jerky expiration. This results in a stimulation of the vagus nerve – the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system and one of the most important nerves in the body – that happens to go through the diaphragm, which means that its movement stimulates it, and through it the parasympathetic (relaxation) response.
  • Increased immune system’s defenses and improved natural defenses against illness. Laughter helps to provide longer exhalations, thus ridding the lungs of residual air and enriching the blood with ample supplies of oxygen, the lifeline of our system. It also helps to improve the cardiac vagal tone, an indication of your body’s capacity to regain calm after you’ve been in a stressful situation. Low vagal tone has been linked to chronic inflammation throughout the body, which is a known risk factor for heart failure, stroke and diabetes. It also improves the flow of lymph and therefore all immune functions.





2. Biochemically, via neurotransmitters and hormones

  • Helps to naturally create a healthy DOSE of wellbeing (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins.)
  • Reduces stress, anxiety, tension and counteracts depression symptoms.
  • Elevates mood, energy and vigor.

3. Neurologically, through the transmission of nerve impulses

Elevates pain threshold and tolerance. Laughter is respectfully regarded as the most easily accessible analgesic for pain, and we understand the neurochemistry of how this is achieved: Opioid peptides (opioids) are a group of endogenous (internally produced) neural polypeptides (amino acid chains such as endorphins and enkephalins). Endogenous opioids are released when we laugh. Opioids bind to central nervous system opiate receptors and naturally produce some of the pharmacological properties of powerful drugs like morphine, without the dangerous side effects of plant-produced opiates. Other instances when opioids are released include when we are happy with a positive self-image or exercise vigorously (the “runner’s high” or the “dancer’s high”). Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders. It helps people forget about pain. In a study of 35 patients in a rehabilitation hospital, 74% agreed with the statement ” Sometimes laughing works as well as a pain pill.” These patients had a broad range of conditions, such as spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, arthritis, limb amputations, and other neurological or musculoskeletal disorders.




4. Energetically, through electromagnetic field interactions

  • Creates a new perspective. Change our perception of the world and redefine stress from “threat” to “challenge”.
  • Changes our mental map from NMA (Negative Mental Attitude) to PMA (Positive Mental Attitude), through the practice of releasing negative thoughts and emotions when we are down.
  • Improves interpersonal interaction, relationships, attraction and closeness.
  • Increases friendliness, helpfulness and builds group identity, solidarity, and cohesiveness.
  • Promotes psychological wellbeing.
  • Elevates self-esteem and hope.
  • Builds resilience.



The Many Benefits Of Laughter

science of laughter

Laughter and physical health

  • Provides low impact exercise and burns calories: When you laugh, all your body systems are affected in a positive manner. It is particularly important for seniors as well as bedridden or wheelchair-bound people. It is a unique way to enhance one’s daily wellbeing.
  • Regulates Blood Pressure: Laughter balances blood pressure. The relaxation of the muscles in conjunction with the increased heart rate allows the blood to flow more freely throughout our body. At the same time if our blood pressure is low it can be increased over time due to the aerobic exercise that it provides.
  • Reduces Pain: Endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers. They are released into our spinal cord and then distributed throughout our nervous system when we laugh. Regular laughter is often used to assist with chronic pain management.
  • Increases Oxygen: Laughter provides more oxygen to the brain and body cells. It does this by increasing the exhalation process. When we laugh the diaphragm forces the air from our lungs so that when it drops more air is inspired into the lungs ready for distribution.
  • Boosts the Immune System: When you laugh, the diaphragm becomes a powerful pump for your lymphatic circulation, much like your heart serves as the central pump that propels blood through your blood vessels. This assists the lymphatic vessels in carrying this fluid through your body and helps your lymph nodes to clean and filter this fluid, removing waste products, dead cells, and even unwanted microorganisms. Maintaining clean body fluids is important because these are necessary for you to be at your best. Increased lymphatic flow equals an elevated, improved immune system. Read this poem: Lymphatics And Laughter





Laughter and mental health

Laughter and emotional health





Laughter and social health

  • Improves Cooperation, Communication, Romance: Laughing together can greatly improve cooperation and empathy between people of different cultural backgrounds. It fosters better communication, which leads to a less confrontational approach in tense situations and a change from individual competitiveness to team cooperation. It’s also an indicator of family vitality and healthy couples.

Laughter and spiritual health

  • Benefits Of Laughter According To The Bible: 20 verses that speak of joy and laughter.
  • (How) Did The Buddha Laugh? Buddha’s laughter is a state of release from inner tensions into inner harmony. The Buddha does not laugh at himself or at others, he does not laugh because he has acquired something others don’t have. The laughter is neither cynical, sarcastic, bitter nor defiant. It is the laughter of compassion, an amusement at the interplay of knowledge and ignorance that makes up the joys and sorrows of what we call life.
  • Waraiko: A gift of laughter: An ancient Japanese ceremony to offer one’s heartiest laughter to the gods, still celebrated annually after 800 years.
  • Poem: Happiness Isnowhere: You may laugh. I do too, for what isn’t funny? On the great stage of life that’s my epiphany.

Where The Science Of Laughter Is Currently At

Until the late 19th Century, the prevailing attitude towards laughter was a negative one as if Proverb 17:22 was an error in the text: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Church dogma suggested laughter was detrimental to spiritual wellbeing, and many commonly considered it impolite and sinful. Freud himself placed humor beside neurotic and psychotic disorders as basic mechanisms of adaptation to human suffering, with the essential difference that humor alone is not pathological” (Fry, 1977).

Our relationship with laughter has changed tremendously over the course of the 20th Century, but old doubts have proven very resilient and we still have mixed feelings about it. Is it beneficial or childish? Is it therapeutic or trivial? Is it helpful or irrelevant?

Why academic research on laughter was blocked until the 1980s

For many years, to argue that laughter’s “favorable impact on the mind influences various functions of the body and makes them healthier,” as an American physician named James Walsh did in 1928, in his book “Laughter and Health,” was to make a claim without evidence. No one had investigated the matter, because the medical community in Walsh’s time, and for nearly half a century afterward, held that the human nervous system was entirely cut off from the immune system. Read more.

Hundreds of laughter studies may have been done over the past several decades, but the only comparable aspect in all of them is the word “laughter”. Past that there is no consistent definition of what that word means, nor what exactly was studied. If you don’t know that – and most often we don’t – it’s like claiming that all vegetables are good for the eyes because numerous studies on carrots have shown that they are good for eye health, and carrots are a vegetable. You can’t do that and it seems obvious, but it’s the same thing with laughter.

  • How much of the laughter studied was spontaneous vs. simulated? (Those two use and stimulate a different circuitry in the brain and that produces different results.)
  • Which variable(s) were they observing, following which definition of laughter (is it a choice or a response)?
  • What role did the facilitator and his or her ability to facilitate and motivate people (or not) play in the study?
  • What if the science of laughter was really describing the impact not so much of laughter but really that of the biology of belief and how our bodies change as we change our thoughts, or that maybe it was the decision itself to participate in a laughter study and/or its anticipation that produced most of the benefits described? We don’t really know.

In the clinical setting, laughter is now recognized as a legitimate form of preventive (lifestyle) medicine, and a complementary option to other established therapeutic strategies. The current state of research and other reports constitute sufficient substantiation to support what is experientially evident — laughter is a valid therapeutic ally in healing.

Why? Laughter is a human need, and its absence is a pathology that leads to dysfunctional behaviors. It has far-reaching positive implications for overall wellness, and is a significant lubricant for human communication and relationships. It can be (and has been with Laughter Wellness) systematized into an exercise modality that is easy to learn and implement, is low-impact and universally well tolerated, sustainable, reliable, and inclusive in nature, and helps people be healthier in body, mind and spirit. Unlike other therapies which are more time consuming, committed or expensive, laughter-based programs are easy to implement and require no particular space, equipment or form of clothing.

Who Benefits?

Education

  • How Laughter Helps In Schools And in the World Of Education: Laughter promotes childlike playful behavior, and social play is critical to the development of children’s social skills and emotional intelligence. Restricted play results in deficient social skills which can lead to life-long physical, mental, emotional and social problems.

Age-care

  • How laughter helps seniors: Promotes a feeling of closeness and fraternity, helps generate a positive attitude, boosts self-esteem and overcomes feelings of insecurity. Increases quality of life.
  • Six Surprising Ways Laughter Can Help You Live Longer: Researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina found that people with poor social networks (aka few friends) are 50 percent more likely to die sooner than those with “robust social ties.” Having a large social circle, says the study, can make as much difference to your life expectancy as a life without smoking cigarettes.

Business world

Health-care

Mental health

Special need groups

Laughter Quotes

He that is of a merry heart has a continual feast. -- Proverbs 15:15
More quotes about laughter

More Laughter Quotes From The Medical Field

For the most part, when you go and get medical treatment, a clinician is not necessarily going to tell you to take two aspirins and watch Laurel and Hardy, but the reality is that’s where we are and it’s more real than ever. There’s a real science to this. And it’s as real as taking a drug.Dr Lee Berk, Professor Of Medicine, Loma Linda University
The magnitude of change we saw in the endothelium is similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic activity, but without the aches, pains and muscle tension associated with exercise. We don’t recommend that you laugh and not exercise, but we do recommend that you try to laugh on a regular basis. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system.Michael Miller, M.D., director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center
Believe it or not, having a really hearty chuckle can help too. This is because laughing gets the diaphragm moving and this plays a vital part in moving blood around the body.Dr Andrea Nelson, University of Leeds School of Healthcare
…and if you look at laughter as a simple yet most fun and effective way to breathe deeper:

Deep breathing techniques which increase oxygen to the cell are the most important factors in living a disease free and energetic life… Remember: where cells get enough oxygen, cancer will not, cannot occur.Dr. Otto Warburg, President, Institute of Cell Physiology, Nobel Prize Winner (Dr. Warburg is the only person to ever win the Nobel Prize twice in medicine, and he was nominated for a third.)
Deep diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the cleansing of the lymph system by creating a vacuum effect which pulls the lymph through the bloodstream. This increases the rate of toxic elimination by as much as 15 times the normal rate.Dr. J.W. Shields, MD, Lymph, lymph glands, and homeostasis. Lymphology, v25, n4, December 1992, p. 147.
Oxygen plays a pivotal role in the proper functioning of the immune system. We can look at oxygen deficiency as the single greatest cause of all diseases.Stephen Levine, a respected molecular biologist and geneticist, and Dr. Paris M. Kidd, Ph.D., in Antioxidant Adaptation—Its Role in Free Radical Pathology, 1985.
Breathing correctly is the key to better fitness, muscle strength, stamina, and athletic endurance.Dr. Michael Yessis, PhD, President Sports Training Institute, Fitness Writer – Muscle and Fitness Magazine.
All body functions are breathing related. Proper oxygen delivery to all parts of your body is crucial to health and well-being. Aerobic exercise increases the body’s available oxygen and therefore promotes wellness. Delivering oxygen to the body is the responsibility of the respiratory system. Breathing is the process by which air enters the bloodstream, by way of the lungs. Thus, proper breathing, and correcting common breathing disorders, is the ultimate form of aerobics.Dr. Robert Fried, Breath Connection, Insight Books, 1990, p. 52.




Why not do your own laughter research?

Therapeutic approaches to laughter such as Laughter Wellness are versatile, reliable and easy to use. They do not rely on humor or comedy but rather on an internal decision to laugh. This kind of approach is not as reflexive nor highly variable as humor, and allows to work with a broader population and, therefore, unearth results of a higher quantity and quality. Contact us! We will be most happy to share how it works with you.

Here is how I suggest you do your own laughter research (what to do, what not to do, questionnaires to use to measure the impact, etc.).

  • First read the article “Laughter Yoga: The Trouble With Research
  • An easy test (if you have a blood pressure cuff and know how to use it) is to measure the impact on blood pressure.
  • Below are a few quantitative tests  you could use to measure various psychological variables (click on each image to download.)
Questionnaire: How do you feel right now?
benefits of laughter
Questionnaire for baseline and follow-up assessments of health-related laughter interventions (Q-LAUGH)

Laughter Trivia

A few laughter myths debunked
The following 3 claims bend the truth as they aim to make a point rather than state established facts.

Did you know?

  • Laughter Therapy History: Who, What, When: Public interest in laughter therapy started to develop in the 1960s and grew from there. This was also a time when the dominance of humor as the main avenue to laughter was increasingly challenged.
  • Norman Cousins Anatomy Of An Illness: Read the story, learn the wisdom, and watch the movie of a man who challenged science on its sceptic position towards laughter, and won.
  • All humans laugh, and laughter always involves a similar pattern of whooping noises. The sound of laughter is so common and familiar that it can be recognized if played backwards on tape. Deaf people who have never heard a sound still make laughing noises.
  • The laughing noises produced by humans share many of the acoustic properties of speech, which is further evidence that laughter is hijacking the brain and body apparatus that we use for breathing and talking.
  • Adults between the ages of 18 and 34 report laughing the most.
  • In terms of quantity there is no marked difference between laughter in men and women. Differences do exist, but on sounds and acoustic features (quality). In women, laughter predominates (“ha ha ha” and other vowels). In men, unvoiced laughter is frequently alternated with voiced laughter (puffs, whistles, growls, roars). Watch Professor June Gruber from Yale University explain the research findings of Dr. Jo-Anne Bachorowski on gender differences in laughter at http://lou.pm/mwl.
  • The majority of men report that their laughter is a chuckle, and the majority of women report that theirs is a giggle.
  • Smiling is a mild, silent form of laughing.
  • Infants start to smile within the first five weeks of life and laugh at around four months.
  • The Mystery of Ticklish Laughter: Some scientists believe that laughing caused by tickling is a built-in reflex. If this is true, then, theoretically, you should be able to tickle yourself. But you can’t.
  • 15 Fascinating Facts About Our Smiles: Everyone loves the quote “laughter is the best medicine,” and you have probably even experienced the benefits of smiling and laughter. But did you know that the simple act of smiling can boost your mood and even your immune system?

Six different types of laughter
The Uvasagadasao (an ancient Jain treatise) classifies hasya – or laughter and wit – into six types:

  1. Smita, or gentle smile
  2. Hasita, or smile
  3. Vihasita, or gentle laughter
  4. Upahasita, or laughter of derision
  5. Apahasita, or vulgar laughter
  6. Atihasita, or excessive laughter

Why is laughter contagious?
We don’t really know why genuine laughter is contagious, but there are 3 main hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1: We can’t help it

  • Even though we laugh from all over our brain, the areas that control laughing lie deep in the sub-cortex, and in terms of evolutionary development these parts of the brain are ancient, and are responsible for primal behaviors such as breathing and controlling basic reflexes. This means laughter control mechanisms are located a long way away from brain regions that developed later and control higher functions such as language or even memory. Perhaps this explains why it is so hard to suppress a laugh even if we know it is inappropriate, or why the brain responds even when we smile at ourselves in the mirror or simulate laughing with enthusiasm. Once a laugh is kindled deep within our brains these ‘higher function’ brain regions have trouble intervening.

Hypothesis 2: We are tuned for laughter

  • Humans may be “tuned” for laughter much in the same way that songbirds are “tuned” for song, especially their own specific family song. While birdsong of one species may sound the same to you and me, there are subtle differences between various individual on that species. Certain nerve cells in the songbird’s brain “fire” in response to hearing his song. Perhaps humans have specialized nerve cells that respond to laughter. After all, laughter is a specialized vocalization, and we are “tuned” to respond to vocalizations with language.

Hypothesis 3: It’s because of mirror neurons

  • Another possible reason why laughter is contagious is because of mirror neurons. This is addressed in an article in Explore magazine entitled Strange Contagions: of Laughter, Jumps, Jerks, and Mirror Neurons (2010). The author, Larry Dossey, describes several cases of “laughter epidemics” and uncontrollable laughter called “laughing jags” (p. 119). The phenomenon that laughter is contagious is attributed to mirror neurons that fire in both the individual laughing and anyone witnessing the laughter.
  • Mirror neurons were discovered while studying the brains of macaque monkeys in the early 1990s. It was observed that the neurons on the frontal cortex of the monkey activated when he reached for a peanut. It was also observed that the same neurons fired when he merely witnessed the researcher reaching for a peanut. After such a discovery, the research was extended to humans and similar results were found. Dossey states that researchers now assume that mirror neurons fire during empathetic reflection of facial expressions and emotions, mimicry and the acquisition of language. The author goes on to discuss the idea that laugher is contagious because of said empathetic reflection, a psychological premise that has been scientifically validated as a result of the discovery of mirror neurons. This may explain why and how people with a warm, genuine, voluminous laugh can get everybody around them to laugh just by laughing themselves with sincere enthusiasm.
  • Humor, in contrast with laughter, requires higher brain functions (right frontal cortex, medial ventral prefrontal cortex, the right and left posterior temporal regions and possibly the cerebellum). This is why a sense of humor is a psychological trait that can respond to different types of humorous stimuli and therefore varies considerably between ages, genders, cultures, etc.

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