L is for laughter
Updated: Mar 7
What is laughter?
Milton Berle defined laughter as follows: “Laughter is like an instant vacation.”
whilst Heidi Hanna’s claims about laughter are based on evidence published in studies in publications such as the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal, Medical Hypotheses, and Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine:
“Laughter is the physical manifestation of finding something funny, and it can help to reduce inflammation and stress hormones, improve circulation, and enhance the immune system.”
Laughter provides powerful, uncensored insights into our unconscious. It simply bubbles up from within us in certain situations and not always at appropriate times! On the day I got married I found it funny that the celebrant swapped to asking me to repeat every two words rather than whole phrases and it still makes me smile to this day.
Why to both I still don’t know!
Laughter is triggered by many sensations and thoughts, and it activates many parts of the mind and body. When we laugh, our brains react, our facial expressions alter and we utter sounds. When we laugh heartily often our whole body is involved not just our face.
Why is laughter important?
“A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it’s the only weapon we have.” Roger Rabbit, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’
Even without laughing out loud, research has proved (Research published in April 2016 in The FASEB Journal, by Lee Berk, PhD,) that just the mental and emotional experience of finding something humorous can nudge our neurons towards the positive. The emotional experience of being amused stimulates the production of gamma waves in the brain that shift the body into a more relaxed state, like deep meditation.
“Mirth is like a flash of lightning that breaks through a gloom of clouds and glitter for the moment. Cheerfulness keeps up daylight in the mind, filling it with steady and perpetual serenity” Samuel Johnson
Laughter is a physical expression of humour and joy that has numerous protective qualities. Busyness has become the norm of modern life and our lives have become increasingly complicated and stressful. It is believed that stress is the primary obstacle to laughter. Laughter is one of the best ways to manage perceptions of stress and to develop resilience and improve psychological sturdiness as it strongly correlates with happiness ( see 1)
“As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul”. A Jewish Proverb
If we can look for the ‘funny side’ of a difficult moment, it can help us endure it. It is thought that humour differs from some other cognitive based emotional regulation strategies in that unlike some it doesn’t deny negative experiences, but instead helps us to embrace it and to construe it as less threatening. When we laugh at traumatic events in our lives it doesn’t mean we are ignoring them; instead we are preparing ourselves to face them from the different perspective of playfulness. Humour can therefore be an important tool to develop our resilience and can enhance our positive life experiences.
“[Humanity] has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” Mark Twain
Laughter is part of the universal human vocabulary; it is something that we can all share and understand and is accessible to all. We don’t have to learn how to “speak laughter” like a foreign language either as we are born with the capacity to laughing
“Laughter has no foreign accent”. Paul Lowney
Laughter has physical, mental and social benefits for all humanity.
PHYSICAL: What happens to our body when we laugh?
“Laughter is the best medicine”
How we think affects how we feel. Laughter makes you feel happier. Even just consciously changing our facial expression can have a positive effect as it primes our body for laughter. The act of simply smiling is good for our health.
Laughter relaxes the whole body.
“Laughter is a form of internal jogging. It moves your internal organs around. It enhances respiration. It is an igniter of great expectations.” Norman Cousins
When we laugh heartily it relieves physical tension and stress in our body and can leave our muscles relaxed after the event.
Breathing and laughter
“Laughter opens the lungs, and opening the lungs ventilates the spirit”. Unknown
Laughter boosts immunity and reduces pain
“Laugh my friend, for laughter ignites a fire within the pit of your belly and awakens your being.” Stella & Blake
Laughter lowers stress hormones in the body easing anxiety and simultaneously triggers the release of serotonin and endorphins in the brain, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals/painkillers. Laughter endorphins promote increasing feelings of positivity, an overall sense of well-being and happiness and can even temporarily relieve pain. Laughter also increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thereby improving our resistance to disease.
“Laughter serves as a blocking agent. Like a bulletproof vest, it may help protect you against the ravages of negative emotions that can assault you in disease.” Norman Cousins
Laughter helps prevent heart disease
“He who laughs, lasts!” Mary Pettibone Poole
Laughter protects the heart by improving the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect us against heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.
Laughter can help increase life span and help fight diseases like cancer
“I have not seen anyone dying of laughter, but I know millions who are dying because they are not laughing”. Dr. Madan Kataria
A study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humour outlived those who don’t laugh as much. The difference was particularly notable for those battling cancer.
“Cancer is probably the unfunniest thing in the world, but I’m a comedian, and even cancer couldn’t stop me from seeing the humour in what I went through.” Gilda Radner
“Your body cannot heal without play. Your mind cannot heal without laughter. Your soul cannot heal without joy”. Catherine Rippenger Fenwick
Laughter improves brain function
Happiness and humour can improve brain function. There is evidence of increased connectivity in various parts of the brain in response to laughter. (see 2) Humour also releases brain derived neurotrophic factor, which supports existing neurons and encourages the growth of new neurons and synapses ( see 3)
Laughter changes our perspective
“At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.”
Nothing can help to diffuse anger and conflict faster than laughter that is shared. By actively looking at the funny side it can help put our current problems into perspective and enable us to move on from confrontations without holding onto bitterness or resentment using forgiveness. Effectively laughter shifts our perspective, allowing us to see situations in a different light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help us avoid feelings of being overwhelmed
Laughter helps you relax and recharge.
“Laughter lets me relax. It’s the equivalent of taking a deep breath, letting it out and saying, ‘This, too, will pass’.” Odette Pollar
Laughter improves mood
Laughter effectively stops distressing emotions because it is difficult to feel anxious, angry, or sad and laugh at the same time. It helps us keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations.
Laughter strengthens resilience
“I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it liveable.” Viktor Frankl
Laughter gives us the courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope even in the most difficult times. A laugh–or even simply a smile–can go a long way toward making us feel better and is more than just a respite from sadness and pain.
“Everyone is so afraid of death, but the real Sufis just laugh: nothing tyrannizes their hearts. What strikes the oyster shell does not damage the pearl.” Mevlana Rumi
“Each of us has a spark of life inside us, and our highest endeavour ought to be to set off that spark in one another.” Kenny Ausubel
Laughter is contagious—just hearing laughter primes our brain and readies us to smile and join in the fun. Laughter is not about humour; it is about relationships between people.
“Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh”. W. H. Auden
It is important to develop friendships that enhance our lives, steering ourselves towards those people that motivate, inspire, help us and share the same values and reducing the time spent with those that drain our energy and sense of fun.
“If you wish to glimpse inside a human soul and get to know the man, don’t bother analysing his ways of being silent, of talking, of weeping, or seeing how much he is moved by noble ideas; you’ll get better results if you just watch him laugh. If he laughs well, he’s a good man…All I claim to know is that laughter is the most reliable gauge of human nature.”
Laughter strengthens relationships
“Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy”. John Cleese
Laughter draws us closer to others, releasing our inhibitions and allowing us to express our true emotions. Laughter is a social glue that bonds relationships.
“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people”. Victor Borge
By communicating effectively but playfully with humour through laughter, it triggers positive feelings and fosters emotional connection, allowing us to get out of our head, see different perspectives and into the present moment.
“If Laughter cannot solve your problems, it will definitely dissolve your problems; so that you can think clearly what to do about them” Dr. Madan Kataria
When we laugh with one another person, a positive bond is created which acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, and disappointment.
“Laughter is the foundation of reconciliation”. St. Francis de Sales
Laughter allows us to be more spontaneous and let go of defensiveness.
“The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people – that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature. The wellspring of laughter is not happiness, but pain, stress, and suffering.” James Thurber
Laughter enhances creativity
“The person who has a sense of humour is not just more relaxed in the face of a potentially stressful situation, but is more flexible in his approach”. John Morreall
You can allow life’s challenges to either get the best of you or become playthings for your imagination. When you take yourself too seriously, it can be harder to think ‘outside the box’ and find new solutions, but when you ‘play with the problem’, you can often transform it into an opportunity for creative learning.
When is it important to laugh?
“In this world, a good time to laugh is any time you can”. Linda Ellerbee
So how can we add more laughter into our lives?
“Laughter is the loaded latency given us by nature as part of our native equipment to break up the stalemates of our lives and urge us on to deeper and more complex forms of knowing”. Jean Houston
Laughter is a natural part of life that is innate and inborn. Babies smile during their first few weeks in life and laugh out loud within a few months at about 3.5 to 4 months of age, long before they are able to speak. Laughter, like crying, is a way for a preverbal infant to interact with the mother and other caregivers. .
“When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies. And now when every new baby is born its first laugh becomes a fairy. So there ought to be one fairy for every boy or girl.” Sir James Matthew Barrie
Even if laughter is uncommon when growing up, it is possible to learn to laugh at any stage of life through intention
We can help increase moments of laughter in our life by setting aside special times to seek out humour and laughter and build from there.
As we do this, it will increase our natural desire to incorporate humour and laughter into the fabric of our life, and we will start to look for it naturally in everything we experience
It is not always easy to naturally find things to laugh about but humour is like a muscle that can be trained
“I will follow the upward road today; I will keep my face to the light. I will think high thoughts as I go my way; I will do what I know is right. I will look for the flowers by the side of the road; I will laugh and love and be strong. I will try to lighten another’s load this day as I fare along.” Mary S. Edgar
Look for practical laughing opportunities and look to create opportunities to laugh
Consciously practise smiling
Smiling is the beginning of laughter, and like laughter, it’s contagious.
“A smile starts on the lips, a grin spreads to the eyes, a chuckle comes from the belly; but a good laugh bursts forth from the soul, overflows, and bubbles all around.” Carolyn Birmingham
The movement of smiling creates body feedback which enhances our mood because all our body postures, mimics, gestures have an effect on our emotions.
There are many opportunities for increasing the times we smile in our every day lives. When you look at someone or see something that is pleasing, practice consciously smiling. Look up and smile at people that you pass when walking, the people who serve you in shops, your family members as they come into the room, when you look at your friends or your co-workers. Try making your smile the first thing others see and then notice the effect it has on others!
“Smiles are the soul’s kisses”. Minna Thomas Antrim
“Always (reflect) on the bright side of life”
Eva Ullmann, founded the German institute for humour (GIH) in Leipzig in 2005. It aims to teach people about how humour can be used in interpersonal communication.
It is impossible for us to go through the vicissitudes of life without experiencing the whole gamut of emotions but "Humour makes a change of perspective possible," Karen Seidler research assistant at (GIH)
It is often easier to see the funnier side of what initially appears to us as an impossible situation after the event. Conscious reflection can help us draw on those similarities when faced with similar new events at the time which may make the situation a little easier and us a little happier or at least accepting that the scenario won’t last forever and we will come out the other side
Practise an attitude of gratitude
When we spend time reflecting on the positive aspects of our life it creates a distance between ourselves and the negative thoughts that block laughter.
Watch funny things
Watch a funny film, TV show, or YouTube video or read a funny book or magazine. Listen to a funny Podcast or look for what is genuinely funny on Instagram, Tictoc etc.
Animals often do the funniest things and provide lots of opportunities for laughter even if you don’t have your own pet you can see the antics other pet owners have put up that they found funny.
In a study (published in April 2016 in The FASEB Journal) Gurinder Bains and colleagues showed that watching a video of something the individual rates as being humorous enhances memory and reduces inflammation, as measured by the amount of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the bloodstream.
Increase the time you spend with people who are fun to be with and with whom you can naturally laugh together
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22
When you hear laughter, find out more by moving towards it and perhaps asking “What’s funny?” More often than not, people are very happy to share something that they find funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humour you find in it.
Look for people who laugh easily–both at themselves and who routinely find the humour in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter will be contagious. Even if you consider yourself a serious person rather than a light-hearted individual you can still seek out people who like to laugh and make others laugh because ‘every comedian appreciates an audience’ and laughter is infectious
Create opportunities for laughter with friends by doing fun stuff together or going out e.g. to a comedy club, watching a film together, playing games and also interacting with children can be fun and keep you on your toes too!
Pay attention to children and try to emulate them—find your inner child - after all, they are the experts on playing, taking life lightly, and laughing at ordinary things.
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the self-same well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears”. Kahlil Gibran
Actively bring humour into conversations.
Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?”
Look for opportunities to share laughter with others this week!
So, what if you really can’t think of funny things or “find the funny in life?”
Interestingly enough it is still possible to laugh without experiencing a funny event—and simulated laughter can be just as beneficial as the real thing.
A Georgia State University study found that incorporating bouts of simulated laughter into an exercise program helped improve older adults’ mental health as well as their aerobic endurance. Plus, hearing others laugh, even for no apparent reason, can often trigger genuine laughter.
To add simulated laughter into your own life, search for laughter yoga or laugh therapy groups.
One such group formed by Dr Madan Kataria in Mumbai is called the Indian Laughter club. It consists of a group of people who don't use jokes yet they've been laughing every morning for 20 minutes for the past ten+ years
“Most laughter isn’t about humour” Robert Provine, (professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County).
Angela Mecking, a Laughter Yoga coach explains that laughter yoga (where you laugh without reason) is different to when you laugh at a joke (which has a relatively short term effect)
Laughter occurs unconsciously. While we can consciously inhibit it, It is difficult to force yourself to laugh but the benefits can outweigh the uncomfortableness initially experienced.
Your mind-body connection actually flows mostly in the direction 80% body to brain and 20% brain to body so when it comes to changing our emotions ‘doing’ will always be easier and more impactful than thinking
If we persist therefore with laughter sounds, clapping, body tapping, breathing, etc we can ‘fake it until you make it’ with laughter too. Laughter works if you work it. Laughter does not come from outside it comes from within and is waiting for us to tap into it. The process may not always be easy but it is worth it
Laughter requires modification in our pattern of breathing this is why the breathing effect of yoga is important; we breathe in deeply when laugh and breathe out longer, deeper and more heartily.
Another suggestion is that you could start simply by consciously laughing at other people’s jokes, even if you don’t find them that funny. It may feel strange at first but both you and the other person will feel good, it will draw you closer together, and who knows, it may even lead to some spontaneous laughter.
Tips for developing a sense of humour
Don’t take yourself too seriously
“When we can begin to take our failures non seriously, it means we are ceasing to be afraid of them. It is of immense importance to learn to laugh at ourselves.” Katherine Mansfield
An essential ingredient for developing our sense of humour is to learn not to take ourselves and life too seriously and to laugh at our own mistakes. We are all imperfectly imperfect and we all make mistakes or do foolish things from time to time. Instead of feeling embarrassed or defensive, it is better for our health to embrace our imperfections and choose to laugh whenever we can.
“You grow up the day you have your first real laugh — at yourself.” Ethel Barrymore
Attempt to laugh at situations rather than bemoan them engage in positive reinterpretation .
By looking for the humour in difficult situations we uncover the irony and absurdity of life. When something negative happens, try to make it a humorous anecdote that will make others laugh and share your embarrassing moments with friends, It often leads to others sharing similar incidents and they will release their feelings of stress too
Surround yourself with positive reminders
Post it notes, a funny poster or a computer screensaver that makes you laugh. Frame photos of you and your family or friends having fun. Move their position or change the images regularly so they stay in your attention
Remember funny things that happen.
If something amusing happens or you hear a joke or funny story you really like, write it down or tell it to someone to help you remember it.
Don’t dwell on the negative focus on the uplifting.
As well as being selective with your choice of friends, think about what you feed your mind. Don’t dwell on news stories, entertainment, or conversations that make you sad or unhappy. Many things in life are beyond your control—particularly the behaviour of other people so instead feed your mind with uplifting things that will lift your spirit.
Keep simple techniques at hand to deal with stress as it occurs
Breathing, meditation, smiling, stepping away from a scenario/outside for a few moment, spend a few minutes focusing your mind on something else eg detailed observation eg a pretty plant, or object, draw upon a favourite memory that always makes you smile, look in your gratitude or funny story/joke journal
Make the decision not to go through a day without laughing.
“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” E E Cummings
Think of it like exercise or breakfast and make a conscious effort to find something each day that makes you laugh. Set aside 10 to 15 minutes and do something that amuses you. The more you get used to laughing each day, the less effort you’ll have to make.
As well as all the specific health benefits associated with laughter, laughter basically allows you to view the world from a more relaxed, positive, and joyful perspective. This ability to laugh enhances our own lives and in turn allows us to make better connections and relationships with others, making life more enjoyable for everyone. In addition we can use laughter to solve problems, and overcome challenges and think more creatively.
We all have direct access to the positive energy of laughter that we can tap into but it's not a process of adding things, stuff or people into our life it's the opposite it's the process of letting go of what shouldn't be there in the first place to allow our souls free expression
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
What do I want to create in my life today?
How can you create more opportunities for laughter in your life?
What changes do you need to make to remove the blocks to laughter in your life?
What are you chasing right now? Does it align with your values? How much is it costing you and is it worth it? Is chasing what you don’t really want really more important than health and happiness?
If you want to reflect more on this subject, here is a link to get you started:
(1) Kuiper NA. Humor and resiliency: towards a process model of coping and growth. Eur J Psychol. 20;8:475-491
(2) Wildgruber D, Szameitat Dp, Ethofer T, et al. Different types of laughter modulate connectivity within distinct parts of the laughter perception network. PLoS One. 2013;8:e63441.
(3) King B. Health-Related Benefits of Humor and Laughter. Seminar DVDs. Los Banos, California: Institute for Brain Potential.
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain”. Kahlil Gibran