Scientists: We need to laugh more!
It can be challenging for researchers to ignore something as compelling as laughter. Looking at research in the area indicates that laughter has a positive impact on, among other things, well-being, burning, and pain.
If you expect joy and success, then you are automatically looking for people and situations that match your positive expectations. Our brain has difficulty distinguishing between what we experience and what we imagine. This means that if you interpret a situation as real, then it also becomes real in its consequences. Many studies indicate that optimism is an extremely important ingredient for a healthy life. It does not end at the thought. Expressing emotions with laughter also brings great health benefits - both mentally and physically. A good laugh makes the body relaxed and comfortable. Laughter increases creativity and improves your learning ability, thanks to the brain getting more blood and oxygen.
Unfortunately, studies in this area are few and with a small number of participants, which makes it difficult to make any more profound conclusions. But by combining the different studies, you can still get interesting data. What happens in the body and brain when we laugh? We look at the research that exists and whether laughter can have a positive impact on medical conditions.
Laughter – a physical reaction
Laughter is a physical reaction in humans that consists of typically rhythmic, audible contractions of the diaphragm and other parts of the respiratory tract. Laughter can occur, for example, when you get tickled, or when you hear a funny story or by your thoughts. Laughter releases endorphins, the body’s “feel-good” hormone, which reduces pain and stress.
People from all cultures in the world laugh, although some laugh more than others. Babies who are blind and deaf and have never seen or heard any laughter. It often feels liberating to laugh; it creates good cohesion and makes it easier to build relationships. Something as unique as this different explosion of sound must be important.
Gelotology, thedoctrine of laughter (scientific studies of laughter and its effects). Gelos was the god of laughter in Greek mythology.
Research in laughter and health
Laughter has been shown to improve carbohydrate metabolism in type 2 diabetics, increase leptin concentration in breast milk (leptin is a hormone that signals saturation), and exert protective effects on the heart.
It is also reasonable to believe that laughter leading to a heart rate increase and muscle activity could increase energy conversion.
What happens in the brain when we laugh?
A study published in “Cerebral Cortex” showed by MRI (magnetic X-ray) scanning of the brain that the group of individuals who laughed genuinely had greater activity in:
- hypothalamus, which can affect alertness, pain experience, digestion, and blood pressure.
- Parietal operculum is responsible for sensations such as skin contact and temperature.
- Amygdala that processes memories, makes decisions, and gives emotional reactions (historically significant for our survival).
- Right cerebellum affects visual attention, language, and knowing how other people are feeling.
- Ventromedial prefrontal cortex; which provides an increased amount of hormones;
- endorphins, which are known to reduce pain sensation and increase the sense of well-being.
Research in cardiovascular health
A study published in “The American Journal of Cardiology” wanted to see if positive emotions could increase cardiovascular health. The participants got to see a comedy and a documentary, but on different days. The results showed that both heart rate and blood pressure significantly increased when participants watched the comedy, but not when they saw the documentary. They also looked at participants’ carotid arterial compliance, where a higher degree of compliance is a sign of healthy arteries. It was observed that compliance significantly increased after participants watched the comedy, returning to the baseline level only 24 hours later. Despite a small group, the researchers note that the results suggest that genuine laughter as a result of watching a comedy has a positive impact on our vascular health.
Researchers in Japan studied 20,934 men and women, aged 65 and over. It was investigated whether there was any connection between how often someone laughs daily and the risk of heart disease and stroke. The results were published in the Journal of Epidemiology. It was found that individuals who never or seldom laughed had a 21 percent higher risk of heart disease than those who laughed daily. There was also a 60 percent higher risk of getting strokes for individuals who rarely laughed.
Research in depression in the elderly
A study with 109 participants examined how laughter affects depression, cognitive abilities, and sleep in the elderly and was published in “Geriatrics and Gerontology” in 2011.
The effect was not significantly significant, but despite this, researchers believe that laughter is a useful and cost-effective tool that has a positive impact on depression, sleep problems, and sleep quality in older people.
Research in pain
Researchers from Switzerland, including Thomas Benz from RehaClinic Zurzach, reported that laughter and humor could increase pain tolerance and quality of life and believes that this should be part of the pain therapy. However, they point out that it must be genuine laughter to have a positive effect. It was seen that the individuals who watched a comedy and laughed could keep their hands in ice water longer than those who had not laughed before. The measurements showed that increased pain tolerance lasted about 20 minutes after laughter. One explanation is that laughter and humor increase the activity of endorphins and decrease muscle tension, which can have a positive effect on pain, both mentally and physically.
Norwegian researchers have studied 10,000 individuals and found that smokers and former smokers are more pain-sensitive than non-smokers. Men and women who have never smoked had the highest pain tolerance. Doctor Aslak Johansen at University Hospital North Norway believes that nicotine consumption leads to long-term pain sensitivity.
In other words, it seems to be something in the spoken language “Taking medicine is not fun, but having fun is medicine”. Further studies are required, but it is clear that laughter has a positive impact on humans, both mentally and physically. While we wait for more research, it does not hurt to self-medicate with laughter, as it lacks side effects.