Laughing When Life Doesn’t Feel Funny: How Humor Helps

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We all need to take laughter seriously because it is good for our mental and physical health.

Most of us know humor is a health tonic, but we do not always implement this knowledge, especially if feeling depressed or anxious.

Yet, even when life seems the least funny, we still have a working funny bone. Anything we can do to stimulate it will reduce stress and boost our mood, though we may not notice the effect right away.

Researched Health Benefits of Laughter

Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center found that people who have heart disease were 40 percent less likely to find humor in various typical life situations compared to those without heart disease.

“When you change your perception, you change your biology,” says Dr. Lee Berk, who has been researching the effects of laughter for more than 20 years. Berk points out that humans are programmed to laugh, and maintaining the capacity to laugh is necessary for a healthy life perspective.

Benefits of laughing:

  • helps relieve depression, confusion, and fatigue; stimulates optimism and energy.
  • increases endorphins—our body’s natural mood lifter and painkiller.
  • improves short-term memory in older adults.
  • raises dopamine levels in our brain’s nucleus accumbens, or pleasure and reward center.
  • reduces stress hormones (e.g., catecholamines, cortisol), allergic responses, and inflammation.
  • improves circulation, respiration, blood pressure, and enhances the heart function of people who have had a heart attack—much as moderate exercise does.
  • lowers blood sugar levels in diabetics.
  • strengthens the immune system by optimizing antibodies, killer cells, and T cells (disease fighting microbes) in the blood and saliva.

The Anticipating Laughter Effect

Dr. Berk’s research includes studying the effects of anticipating laughter. He found that knowing we will be experiencing “mirthful laughter” by watching a favorite humorous movie has significant positive effects on our physiology.

When compared to a control group, the anticipation of experiencing humor increased the study subjects’ endorphin levels 27 percent, and raised their human growth hormone by 87 percent. These elevated levels were maintained from before the movie started, though the viewing of the movie, and lasted 12 to 24 hours in some individuals.

So, not only is laughing good medicine for depression, but planning to laugh is medicinal as well. Those of us with depression and anxiety can use the anticipation of laughter as a tool to raise our endorphins and keep our mood out of the dismal doldrums. We might not feel the anticipation, or end up roaring with laughter, but anything that tickles our funny bone improves our biology.

Sources: Loma Linda University; Healing Laughter; University of Maryland

 
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