The idea that ‘laughter is the best medicine’ might not be scientifically proven for all ailments, but it’s certainly true that a little laughter can improve our mood. For years researchers have been investigating the impact laughing can have on our health and well-being.
To help us understand a little more about the science of laughter and its therapeutic benefits, Lesley Lyle, Clinical Hypnotherapist and lecturer in Applied Positive Psychology at Bucks New University, shares her thoughts.
“If you were gifted a resource that could support your health, happiness and well-being, lengthen your life and also make you more attractive and successful, would you use it? Whilst most of us would undoubtedly say yes, the fact is every one of us is born with an inner resource that does all of this and more. It’s called laughter!
“Laughing is a habit that we gain in childhood and often lose as adults, usually because we take ourselves and life too seriously – or we simply forget to do it,” says Lesley. “But there are numerous opportunities to laugh, especially when we adopt a less serious attitude. And, like any behaviour, once we purposefully practise, it becomes second nature.”
Below we take a closer look at six therapeutic benefits of laughter.
1. Stress relief
With all the responsibilities and obligations we have in life, some days can feel particularly stressful. And, when you’re feeling like this for a prolonged period, it can be hard to feel joyful. But, laughter can reduce our levels of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, adrenaline and dopamine. This not only relieves pent up stress but can inhibit our stress response, preventing us from burning out.
Lesley explains, “I value laughter as the best mental health tool there is, not just for my clients but for myself, too. Life is frequently hard but laughter helps us to be more resilient and keep things in perspective.”
This goes hand in hand with stress-reduction; when we’re feeling less stressed, we automatically feel more relaxed. When we laugh, it initially raises our blood pressure but, afterwards, it creates a relaxation response. Yes, a big old laugh relieves physical and emotional tension and can leave your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes.
3. Health booster
Researchers have found that laughing for 30 to 45 minutes can help to increase blood flow around your body by more than 20%. Not only that, but our levels of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins increase as does the amount of oxygen we take in, stimulating our internal organs – a similar effect to that of aerobic activity.
That doesn’t mean we can replace daily exercise by sharing a few jokes with our friends, but we can consider laughter as just as important in our routines as going to the gym.
“Don’t wait for laughter opportunities to come by chance,” says Lesley. “Just as you may already have plans to go for a walk or visit the gym, schedule laughter into your calendar and identify what is most likely to work for you. Watch or listen to comedy, be with people who make you laugh, do something you find to be fun and playful.”
4. Pain control
Research has found that laughing can help us to cope better with pain, both physically and emotionally. Not only does it distract us from aches and pains, but some research suggests that the endorphins it triggers are just as powerful (if not more so) than morphine.
Not only that, but when we laugh we are less likely to experience pain and after prolonged laughter, our tolerance to pain increases. Amazing!
5. Improved mood
Laughter improves our mood and makes us less likely to focus on negative thoughts. It increases our ‘happy chemicals’ such as dopamine and oxytocin, which leads to feelings of positive emotions and happiness.
And the thing is, to feel the benefits of laughter, you don’t have to find something funny. Lesley explains, “It may sound counterintuitive but your body reacts to laughter regardless of the reason you are laughing. Just start laughing as if you are highly amused and your brain will soon start to release some of its happy chemicals.”
6. Better relationships
A bit like yawning and smiling, laughter is contagious. So bringing more laughter into your life can help others around you to laugh more. And, the more you laugh with others, the more you form stronger connections. This can be particularly helpful in the workplace as a team-building exercise.
If you’d like to explore the benefits of laughter can have in your workplace further, take a look at our Happier, Healthier Employer programme. This course focuses on providing tips on supporting mental health in the workplace, improving team relationships, combatting stress and educating staff on the power of laughter and humour to support their resilience.
This blog was kindly guest written by Becky Wright from Happiful, a family of wellness brands. Whether you’re seeking counselling, complementary therapies, hypnotherapy, coaching or nutrition support, Happiful’s mission is to connect you with the help you need.