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We’ve all heard the old adage, “Laughter is the best medicine.” But did you know there’s some real truth behind it? Over the years, numerous studies have explored why we laugh and how our bodies respond biologically to laughter. Research has linked having a good sense of humor to a longer, more fulfilled life!

Laughter, Longevity & Stress Reduction

One 15-year study found that people who laughed more had a longer life expectancy than those who didn’t laugh as often. Those who laughed more had a reduced risk of heart disease and infections over their lifetimes. [1]

Laughter is one of the most easily accessible stress reducers we have in our health toolbox. It is known to lower stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) while increasing the release of endorphins, health-enhancing hormones also released during exercise. Laughter is, in fact, a form of physical and emotional exercise that reduces stress while also helping us connect with others and develop friendships. [2]

Research conducted by Robert Provine, Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, ties laughter directly to improved communication and relationships. His research has shown that people laugh more in conversation and through human-to-human interactions than when watching or reading something funny alone. Some studies have even shown that people are about 30 times more likely to laugh at something when gathered with others. [3]

In their book, The Okinawa Program, authors Bradley J. Willcox, Craig Willcox, and Makoto Suzuki highlight laughter’s benefits. They write, “During laughter, muscles throughout your body tense and relax in a way that is strikingly similar to stress-reduction techniques. Laughter keeps muscles supple as well as relaxed. It also has been shown to stimulate the immune system.” [4]

Laughter in the Workplace

The average child laughs over 100 times per day. In contrast, the average adult laughs just 15 times per day. While many adults feel the pressure to be serious and focused while at work, laughing regularly has been linked to improved alertness, memory, and productivity in the workplace. Researchers have even found that after watching a funny comedy clip, employees’ productivity rate increased by 10 percent! [5]

In recent years many workplaces have shifted to an open floor plan office structure to encourage relationship building, conversation opportunities, and the development of camaraderie among staff, acknowledging the value that lighthearted relational connection adds to organizational health.

Laugh Your Way to Better Health

At The Wellness Way, you’ll often hear us talk about the Three T’s that can impart disorder within the body: Traumas, Toxins, and ThoughtsThat third T, Thoughts, is an often-overlooked contributor to health issues. Thoughts are patterns of beliefs that inform mental and emotional distress both consciously and unconsciously. The great news is that we have many tools at our disposal to support our thoughts and encourage the development of healthy patterns. Laughter is one of them!

While we all face many stressors on a daily basis, we encourage you to invite more humor into your life to help take those stressors in stride.

  • Spend more time around funny, joyful, playful people. We become like those we surround ourselves with, so surround yourself with people who embrace the lighthearted side of life! Consider gathering for game nights, attending comedy shows, or getting together for fun activities where active play is front and center.
  • Seek out media that makes you laugh. Read books, watch movies, or listen to podcasts that make you laugh. If you have children, involve them in making these selections. Media geared toward kids is often filled with jokes and silly characters your family can enjoy together. Joke books, Would You Rather cards, and goofy word games like MadLibs are also great resources. With mental health-related hospital visits on the rise among youth in the past year and a half, it’s equally important that children be encouraged to have fun just as much as adults.
  • Use humor to encourage others. The next time you notice a friend or coworker who seems a little down, try boosting their mood with a well-timed story or joke that can bring levity and joy to the situation. Research shows that shared laughter produces even greater health effects within the body than laughing alone. [3]
  • Let your laughter be contagious. Don’t stifle your laugh, even if you think it’s too loud or boisterous. Chances are those around you will love it and laugh along with you. Let your laughter lift others up!

Originally posted August 4, 2021. Updated August 7, 2023.

References:

  1. A 15-Year Follow-Up Study of Sense of Humor and Causes of Mortality: The Nord-Trøndelag Health Study – PubMed (nih.gov)
  2. The Health Benefits of Laughter (verywellmind.com)
  3. Laughter prescription – PMC (nih.gov)
  4. The Okinawa Program : How the World’s Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health-And How You Can Too: Willcox, Bradley J., Willcox, D. Craig, and Suzuki, Makoto: Books
  5. The Benefits of Laughing in the Office (hbr.org)

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