Is Laughter the Best Medicine?

It has been a rough couple of months.  Who am I kidding…it’s been a rough couple of years. I truly believe that when we think about family values and what is important to us, we need to think about it all. The good times, the bad times, the in-between.

For me, when things get rough, and stress is high, I’m the one cracking a joke. My sister and I often laugh about this because we seem to be those weirdos that crack a joke or laugh at seemingly inappropriate times. But who is to say what is appropriate or inappropriate? I know that I need to cut tension. If I sit in it too long, nothing positive will happen.

Humor and Happiness

This is why I value humor and happiness. I value feelings of contentment, satisfaction and fulfillment. I enjoy seeing the humorous side of myself and the world. Humor is so important to me that I surround myself with people that seek it out. My husband and I laugh together all the time.  Even when we are arguing, we inevitably end up laughing.

These values are not only important to me as an individual, but they are part of my family’s core values. My family looks for the humor in life. We enjoy making others laugh and being happy. We seek out the comic relief and often feel fulfilled and content when we find it.

Is Laughter the Best Medicine?

For as long as I can recall, I’ve always heard that ‘laughter is the best medicine’. I know it is in my family…we laugh and joke all the time. But is laughter really the best medicine? Today we explore this phrase to see if it really holds true.

Sharing a Laugh

As I shared above, in my family, we tend to joke in times of high stress. I’ll give you a little example. Recently my sister took me to urgent care after Tyler (my then adorable 20-month-old) accidentally head butted me right in the eye, leaving me in extreme pain, thinking he absolutely broke my face. Immediately following the incident my husband gave me a jumbo pack of frozen corn to put on my eye/face.

As I sat in urgent care with the frozen corn on my face, waiting for the doctor, a group text went around the family in order to keep everyone in the loop. The main conversation happening? Not how my eye was…rather we were discussing whether or not my husband was going to be ok because we used a jumbo bag of corn as ice…

My sister and I laughed throughout the entire experience, sharing little tidbits with the doctor and I left urgent care with the assurance that although the corn would not survive, I was ok and would simply be left with a massive shiner. I think that our laughter really eased the tension that could have permeated the entire situation.

The Science behind Laughter

For many years scientist have studied laughter. They have studied the physical, mental and social benefits that laughter has, both short term and long term. The consensus seems to be: yes, laughter is a very strong medicine indeed.

The Physical Benefits of Laughter

There are several ways to look at physical benefits. From a medical view point, laughter can lower blood pressure, increase blood flow (which can protect against heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems) and reduce pain, allowing for an increased toleration of discomfort. In addition, it has been shown that a good laugh can leave the muscles in the body relaxed for up to 45 minutes following the laughter.

Laughter can also be seen as a great form of exercising. I know, I had to reread this statement several times myself to believe it. But laughter gives the muscles of your face, chest, shoulders, stomach and diaphragm a great workout. Think about it. Have you ever laughed so much that your face hurt? Or your stomach? That’s because your muscles have been working out!

There is also a big correlation between laughter immunity. Laughter can decrease the release of stress hormones and increase immunity cells. Additionally, infection-fighting antibodies get released with laughter, improving your overall response to infection and disease. And finally, laughter triggers the release of endorphins, those feel good chemicals that promote an overall sense of well-being.

Emotional Benefits of Laughter

I believe that some of the most beneficial effects of laughter have to do with the impact it has on mood. A simple belly laugh can ease anxiety, stress and tension, add joy to life and strengthen one’s resilience. If you really think about it, it’s hard to feel anxious or angry when you’re laughing.

Laughter can also shift one’s perspective, allowing an individual to see a situation in a more realistic light. Remember, a couple of weeks ago we spoke about anxiety and the irrational fears that it triggers. Laughter can bring you back to the present moment, opening your view of what is really occurring.

Laughter can also help you move on from trying situations without holding on to the bitterness or resentment that you may have felt. Because, really, why ruminate on resentment? Why let bitterness take up any more time then it should?

The Social Benefits of Laughter

We are naturally social creatures that seek out meaningful relationships and bonds. Laughing with others can help form meaningful connections between people as well as strengthen relationships that are already established. Studies have even shown that couples that laugh together report having a higher quality relationship as compared to those that laugh less often.

From a social perspective laughter connects people to one another, strengthens relationships and helps diffuse conflict. It can promote group bonding, enhance team work and promote a sense of togetherness and safety.

Think back to the good times you have spent with your friends and family.  How many of them involve laughter? I know that sometimes I can’t even think about experiences I’ve had with friends without bursting into laughter. We had so much fun and laughed so hard in the moment, that even the memories cause me to laugh.

Bottom line, laughter makes us feel good.

As children we laughed so much. Look at your child, how much do they laugh and giggle? For some reason, as we age the giggles can be less frequent. But science has shown and continues to show the importance and positive benefits that laughter and its effects have on us. Try not to take yourself so seriously and enjoy those belly laughs!

If you think about it, each person has their very own unique laugh. Infants begin to laugh and develop their own sense of happiness around 3 to 4 months old. They laugh at noises, light touch or tickling and games such as peek-a-boo. The laughter of a child is just so pure and honest.

Laughter isn’t always about finding things funny and it’s not something that we are supposed to work hard to accomplish. It should be intrinsic and as a result keep us young and change a negative mindset into a more positive one. Children don’t think about having to laugh at something. They laugh because it feels good. They laugh because they are filled with joy.

Laughter and Child Development

So how is laughter an important part of a child’s development? Well, first and foremost, did you know that on average, a child up to age 5 laughs about 300 times a day? Isn’t that just an amazing? I can’t think of anything that I do roughly 300 times a day, can you?

From a social-emotional point of view, laughter can bring a child into a state of happiness. As infants, children learn about social emotional cues from their parents and often a child’s social emotional development is greatly influenced by their parent’s own social emotional responses. If a parent is anxious, a child can exhibit anxiety and worry. If a parent is sad, a child may appear sad. But, if a parent smiles and laughs, a child will typically mirror this behavior and smile and laugh back at their parent. Laughter, in fact, is a healthy parenting aid – when we laugh, we are less stressed and tend to deal with obstacles in a more positive way.

Laughter and Socialization

Laughing also helps connect people. For young children, laughter can be a way of connecting with others through a shared experience. Children often bond with other kids that they can laugh with because they are finding the same things funny. Laughter promotes sociability, empathy, self-esteem, and problem solving; all aspects important to building relationships with others.

I know that growing up my best friends and I loved the movie Airplane!. We memorized the whole movie and would often quote dialogue back and forth to cheer one another up or to simply be happy. After all, laughter is a vital part of being authentically happy. In college my friends and I loved Friends – I mean, who didn’t, right? Many years later (I won’t say how many 😉) we are still quoting lines from that TV show back and forth in text messages, sending each other Friends GIFs or memes, causing each other to laugh, remember and put a little smile on each other’s face.

Effect of a Child’s Laugh on Parents

A child’s laugh isn’t just important for them, but it is equally as important for parents. Researchers have actually tested how the laugh of an infant can provide a uniquely rewarding experience for a parent. The laugh may activate reward centers in a parent’s brain, reinforcing continued playful interactions that produce more laughter. Positive reinforcement motivates an individual to repeat a behavior. So, a child’s laugh makes a parent feel good (positive reinforcement) and thus leads to a parent continuing to engage in meaningful interactions with their child (repeated behavior) that will continue to elicit laughter.

For years now we have heard that laughter is good for us physically, emotionally, and mentally. Think about the last time you experienced a really good laugh with your child. What was happening? Were you playing? Was your child just laughing and you suddenly began to laugh with them?

Now stop and notice your mood and facial expression at this moment. Are you smiling thinking about this joyful memory? Is there a little smile on your face? Has your mood shifted a bit, leaning you a little more toward happiness?

It’s really amazing what humor, happiness and laughter can do. 😊


P.S. Click here to get your handout on the Benefits of Laughter!

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