The saying goes: Laughter is the best medicine. But what’s the secret behind laughter? Does it really have healing potential?
The Benefits of Laughing
While researchers haven’t quite pinned down the connection between laughter, a positive attitude, and improved health, a recent study on laughter and health determined that laughter does have healing qualities.
The study of 250 individuals aged 100 or older found the common factor among participants was a positive outlook rather than a physical characteristic. Another study found of 600 hospitalized individuals, those who maintained an optimistic attitude were 58% more likely to live five years longer than their peers.
Dr. Nalin, PsyD, an award-winning licensed clinical psychologist and the founder and executive director at Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center, tells Parentology he’s pinpointed several of laughter’s more tangible benefits:
- Laughter increases the amount of oxygen circulating through the bloodstream, thereby lowering blood pressure and reducing one’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Laughter can help regulate blood sugar levels and boost glucose tolerance; something especially helpful for diabetics.
- Laughter can relax muscles and ease tension. In fact, the anxiety-reducing effects of laughter last for up to 45 minutes post-guffaw.
- Laughter releases neuropeptides, protein-like molecules that lower stress and strengthen the immune system.
And, Nalin says, a good laugh is contagious. “A laugh will often create a ripple effect that facilitates social bonds and interactions.”
As an added bonus, laughter can help individuals better deal with life’s challenges. “When challenges arise, laughter can change our way of thinking, helping us see the positive in an unfavorable circumstance,” Nalin says. “People who laugh, especially when faced with an awkward or uncomfortable situation, can better handle the issue at hand. Nothing can give us a new perspective like a welcomed chuckle.”
Theories Behind Laughter’s Healing Powers
It’s clear laughter has incredible healing potential, but why?
“Studies have revealed laugher has a powerful influence on our immune system, boosting our cells’ defenses against infection,” Nalin says. “When we laugh, certain brain neurochemicals, such as those responsible for our mood, are elevated, helping us attain a more positive state of mind.”
Nalin continues, “Our central nervous system is also affected by the power of laughter. In humorous moments, our brain releases endorphins, natural compounds that can mimic even the most powerful painkillers. When our endorphin levels are high, our pain threshold is enhanced, and we experience a euphoric sensation that can numb our discomfort, helping us cope with what’s ahead.”
Psychology Today expands on Nalin’s explanation, citing research proving that, in addition to being a potent endorphin releaser, laughter is an anti-inflammatory. According to the findings, laughter protects the heart muscles and blood vessels from the harmful effects of cardiovascular disease. Though it is not entirely understood how or why this occurs, researchers theorize it has something do with the lessening of the body’s stress response, which is directly linked to inflammation.
Psychology Today suggests laughter may also serve as an antidepressant. The publication suggests laughter fosters brain connectivity, as the body is forced to discern between the various types of laughter the body produces — joyous laughter, taunting laughter, and the laughter that comes from being tickled, for example. And when it comes to getting one’s daily dose of wellbeing, what better way than a repertoire of shared laughs with loved ones?
Study on Laughter and Health — Sources
Teri Dreher, RN, CMM, Board Certified Patient Advocate, Owner/Founder of NShore Patient Advocates
Dr. Jeff Nalin, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Founder and Executive Director at Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center
The Daily Herald