Humor and Health: 4 Ways to Get More Laughter, the Best Medicine

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Laughter actually triggers beneficial physical changes in the body, strenthening the immune system by decreasing hormones that compound stress and increasing the presence of antibodies that fight infections.

Life can be pretty difficult sometimes. In fact it can be difficult a lot of the time. But life also has it’s shining moments. How to handle the times in between the great times and the more mundane, arduous, or even trying times is perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face.

Most of us have heard the phrase “laughter is the best medicine.” Recently, the truth of this adage has been supported by considerable scientific research. Having a good sense of humor, and especially enjoying a good laugh or two on a regular basis can have some very powerful effects on both our general physical health and our overall mental and emotional health.

Laughter actually triggers beneficial physical changes in the body. It strengths the immune system by decreasing hormones that compound stress and increasing the presence of antibodies that fight infections. Laughter can produce a sort of relaxation effect for the entire body by lessening physical tension in the muscles. It also triggers the release of our body’s natural opiates, the endorphins, which actually lessen the degree of pain and facilitate an overall feeling of well-being.

Most recently, laughter has been shown to help relax the walls of blood vessels. This helps keep blood pressure lower, increases the volume of blood flow, and as a result, can help protect the body from heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

Laughter can also be a natural form of mental health therapy. One thing psychological researchers have known for a long time is that you cannot be actively in two fundamentally opposing emotional states at the same time. That principle is even the basis of some treatments like using relaxation states to combat anxiety. So, laughter is good for your mental and emotional health. It’s hard to be angry, sad, or anxious when you’re laughing your socks off. Laughter also helps you increase your mental stamina. By reducing stress and increasing overall energy, many people find themselves better able to focus and to be more productive after they’ve had a good laugh. Laughter also helps us maintain a more balanced mood by helping us see life’s trying situations through a different lens and giving us perspective.

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I read an article recently by Edna Junkins that not only extolled the social benefits of having a good laugh or two among friends and maintaining a good sense of playfulness in relationships, but also on how to bring more zest, vitality, and bond-creating humor into your life.

Some ways to bring more laughter into your life include:

  • Smile more often. Keeping a smile on your face increases your attractiveness to other people, and the happiness it conveys is contagious.
  • Be grateful and thankful. Literally counting your blessings can help you distance yourself from the more painful aspects of life and help you recover a more balanced perspective.
  • Spend time with fun-loving, joyful people. That doesn’t necessarily mean engaging with those who like to “party” recklessly and create the kind of high-risk situations that can quickly turn a laugh into a disaster. But it does mean that the more people you surround yourself with who have a good sense of humor and have the capacity to “let go” a bit and to be playful at times can really improve the quality of your social life.
  • Bring humor into conversations. Don’t be afraid to tell a joke or two to relate a funny thing that happened. People identify readily with situations that evoke a laugh. It’s a great way to bond with others and to find common ground.

I have spent much of my professional life working with individuals who for various reasons have caused many problems and posed significant challenges in therapy. The work is often quite exhausting. When I get together with colleagues who do similar work, it’s inevitable that we engage in story-telling and other sharing that leads to laughter. At times, I’ve laughed so hard I thought I might not catch my breath. But afterwards I always felt myself better connected and much more energized. I can’t imagine being able to have done what I have for over 20 years without those times that I stepped back, took it all so much less seriously, regained perspective, and simply had a great laugh.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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