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It’s more infectious than a cough or sneeze, and when shared, it’s the social glue that brings people together. Safer than medical treatments and free of side effects, it is one of the simplest ways to boost healing and well-being. This priceless medicine is fun, free and can be used anywhere.

Laughter; it’s the most obvious sign of happiness. I have to say, I always get a buzz from seeing live comedians and laughing out loud at their gags. Whenever I’m feeling down, I just watch some funny YouTube videos, and I’ll be rolling on the floor laughing. No one can deny that having a laugh with your friends is the most fun you will have, and it’s those hilarity-filled moments that you always remember. It’s so important we’ve even made up a language of laughter for when we can’t physically see or hear each other…LMAO.

“Like language, laughter is a basic part of being human” says Robert Provine a laughter expert at the University of Maryland. However, laughter doesn’t have to be learned; babies produce their first laugh when they are around three months old. Even so, laughter is very complex and sometimes it can mean a lot more than words. It evolves from a simple baby’s giggle into to a multifaceted social tool. We may be born with this innate ability, but the ability to utilise it socially is something we learn, stemming from the development of a sense of humour.

Stephanie Davies, author of Laughology: The Science of Laughter and one of the UK’s top laughter experts, says that there is a difference between laughter and humour. She says, “Laughter is a response; it’s usually the outward manifestation of humour but doesn’t always have to be about something which is funny. It can be used to fit into a social situation or it can be a way of coping with a situation.” Davies explains that humour is a system for processing information, which can change depending on age and situation.

For such an essential part of life, the study of laughter is still relatively new. However experts are starting to take the field of humour seriously by investigating the personal and social benefits of a good laugh.

The healing powers of laughter

Physical health

So what evidence is there that laughing can benefit your health and wellbeing? The most famous case is that of the journalist and editor Norman Cousins. During the 60s he was diagnosed with a debilitating spinal disease and had a very small chance of survival. Cousins however believed in the importance of environment in healing, so he left the hospital and checked into a hotel. Here he took large doses of vitamin C and watched continual episodes of Candid Camera and the Marx Brothers. Over time, he found that the laughter stimulated chemicals in his body, allowing him several hours of painless sleep. He kept up this routine until his disease finally went into remission and he was able to return to his job. All with the help of humour.

Since this groundbreaking study there have been numerous tests undertaken with similar results. For example, The University of Maryland conducted a study which involved showing people laughter-inducing movies to assess the effect on cardiac health. They found that laughter seemed to cause the blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow. Indeed there has been consistent evidence that laughter, over time, offers significant medical benefits. These include; strengthening the immune system, lowering blood pressure, improving heart and respiratory functions and regulating blood sugar. Surely a good reason to have a daily chuckle!

Mental health

There are also plenty of mental health benefits. According to Dr Frank Lipman, an expert in integrative and functional medicine, a good hearty laugh reduces stress hormones such as cortisol, and releases endorphins which elevate your mood. It allows you to relax, increasing your energy and helping you stay focused. Laughing also helps you keep a positive outlook through difficult situations as it shifts your perspective. It doesn’t just distract you from sadness, laughter goes a long way to make you feel better and give you the motivation to find a solution.

Laughter and relationships

Laughing is good, but sharing laughter with others is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. Laughing and playful communication strengthens our relationships by triggering positive feelings. It’s a powerful way to heal disagreements as well as uniting people in difficult times. Bringing more laughter into your interactions can improve the quality of every kind of relationship whether it is with friends, family or co-workers. It allows you to be more spontaneous, let go of inhibitions, and express your feelings.

Always look on the funny side of life

Paul E. McGhee, a pioneer in humour research, said: “Your sense of humour is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health.” Therefore, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is an excellent ability to be able to master. Here are a few ways to boost you daily laughter production and improve your sense of humour:

  • Experience something funny: The possibilities are endless. Watch a sit-com or a rom-com, go to a comedy club, visit a humour website, watch parodies and bloopers on YouTube or create your own funny moment by doing something silly with your friends. You could even try Laughter Yoga!
  • Bring humour into conversations: Share a joke or funny anecdote. Ask “What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you this week?” Banter with your friends – being able to make fun of them without hurting their feelings can be hilarious.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself: Take yourself less seriously. If something goes wrong, push aside the shame and learn to see the humorous side. Be able to make fun of yourself for example by telling an embarrassing story.
  • Look for the comedy in tough situations: Attempt to laugh at situations rather than complain. Life’s challenges are fuel for your imagination so think outside the box and uncover the irony in the circumstance. This will improve your mood and that of those around you, as well as helping you to maintain an optimistic perspective.

As you integrate laughter and humour into your life more, you will not only experience the physical and mental benefits but it will allow you to be more creative in your interactions and view the world from a more relaxed, positive and joyful perspective.

Go on, laugh your cares away!