Most people have heard the saying, “laughter is the best medicine,” but not many of us know the actual health benefits of laughing. Beyond helping to stay light-hearted and optimistic, there are other benefits to indulging in a fit of laughter-especially one that is shared.
Scientists, psychologists, and sociology experts often try to explain the nuances in human behavior which make us unique among the animal kingdom. Laughter, much like yawning, is often believed to be a method of unifying a group of people-or family unit-in one solidified activity. As highly social creatures, groups of humans are not unlike a pack of wolves; we have an extensive array of unspoken gestures which connect us on a subconscious level. Body language, or kinesics, is a leading area of inexact science which has become popular with mainstream media over the last few years. TV shows such as FOX‘s Lie To Me revolve around characters that are fluent in the unspoken language of the body-including laughter.
Robert Provine, Ph.D, wrote an incredible article about the reasons behind human laughter: A big mystery: Why do we laugh? Provine explains that science has yet to prove a solitary reason for human laughter, but explains that it is a means of communication. “We also know that laughter is a message that we send to other people. We know this because we rarely laugh when we are alone (we laugh to ourselves even less than we talk to ourselves).”
An article at HelpGuide suggests that the health benefits of laughing are threefold: physical, mental, and social. According to the article, laughing boosts your immune system while decreasing pain; released endorphins also help you relax tense muscles and unwind. At the same time, laughing helps to reduce stress and provides mood stabilization, helping to tone-down anxious, anger, and sadness. When in a social setting, laughter promotes healthy relationships, encourages teamwork and productivity, and helps promote bonding between new individuals while strengthening already-present connections.
According to Dr. Miller at the University of Maryland, a recent study conducted by cardiologists at the Medical Center in Baltimore suggests that laughter can actually help to prevent a heart attack. Results of the study showed that people who suffered from heart disease were 40% less likely to laugh in certain situations, when compared to individuals of the same age without the disease.
Although the claim that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile is disputed by urban legend site Snopes, it seems that if there is any authenticity to the claim-paired with the health benefits of laughing-it hardly seems worth the loss of the perks of laughing to risk the frown!
Robert Provine, “A Big mystery: why do we laugh?” MSNBC
HelpGuide, “Laughter is the best medicine”
Dr. Miller, “Laughter is the “Best Medicine” for your heart,” University of Maryland Medical Center
Snopes, “Muscles to smile and frown”