April 2, 2021

To be Healthier, Try Laughter Therapy

Laughter has powerful effects on the body.

Thank goodness for April Fool's Day. It's the only day of the year where practical jokes are unanimously socially accepted, and we get to LOL and ROFL all day long. If we had it our way, we'd make every month begin with a good laugh because the benefits of humor and laughter on health are numerous. Decades of research and science prove the old idiom "laughter is the best medicine" to be accurate.
Laughter has powerful effects on the body. We often don't think about what's happening under the hood, but the body works in magical ways when we hear a hilarious joke or watch a funny show. Just like certain foods, laughter boosts mood by increasing levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine while decreasing stress-inducing hormones, cortisol and epinephrine. Not only does it leave us in a good mood, but it also has positive effects on the immune system, pain levels, sleep, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Recipe for Funny

The magic recipe for laughter isn't a secret, but writing the perfect joke can be challenging. Some jokes keep us laughing for minutes, while others barely make us chuckle. In a review published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, the authors aimed to figure out what makes something funny. They found that funny things have 3 key characteristics:

Simultaneity : It contrasts two or more things, preferably two things that seem incompatible.

Violation : It produces an effect that is contrary to what we expect.

Benign : It's playful, safe, or harmless.

But it doesn't stop there. Humor style is another ingredient thrown in the mix. In a 2020 study published in Behavioral Sciences, researchers analyzed the different humor styles, and it's relation to psychological health. They noted that humor could be either enhancing or disparaging. Here's the difference:
  • Enhancing humor makes people feel better, creates bonds, and produces a feeling of happiness and life satisfaction.
  • Disparaging humor is aggressive and hostile. It often involves humiliation, belittling, or victimization of yourself or others. It can be harmful to relationships.
Interestingly, the researchers found these humor styles to have a genetic link, meaning that humor styles may run in the family. They also identified disparaging humor to be practiced more often by men than women. This humor style is socially considered a masculine trait and a less socially acceptable way for women to show humor.

Because of the benefits of laughter, the new field of laughter therapy is emerging.

Because of the benefits of laughter, a new field is emerging: laughter therapy. These therapies are being studied to treat conditions like mental health illness, cancer, and diabetes. In essence, laughter therapies are activities, like yoga or exercise, that incorporate humor and laughter. Some even add an element of virtual reality for a more realistic experience. Studies are ongoing in this field.
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