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Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Barbara Bodzin, Executive DirectorBarbara Bodzin, Executive DirectorIt is hard to think about laughter in the winter, during a pandemic. But it is laughter, precisely, that will help us overcome winter blues and the stressors of social isolation, and social distancing. Laughter, much like this virus, is contagious and a good hearty laugh is one of the best tools we have to combat stress and its side effects.

  • Laughter is an antidepressant. Laughter releases the neurotransmitter serotonin, the hormone that stabilizes our mood, our happiness, and our feeling of well-being. It also enables communication between brain cells and nervous system cells, and helps with digestion, eating, and sleeping. 
  • Laughter increases endorphin release in the brain. A study reported in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that 30 minutes of watching funny video clips with friends triggered an opioid release in the thalamus which reduced pain sensation, and increased pain threshold. It also increased pleasurable sensations. 
  • Laughter boosts the immune system. Hearty laughter increases oxygen intake.  In turn, higher oxygen intake enriches many organs in the body, which can lead to better functioning. This, coupled with endorphin and neurotransmitter release has an overall effect of boosting the immune system. 
  • Laughter benefits heart health. By decreasing the body’s stress response through endorphin release, laughter has an impact on heart health by having an anti-inflammatory effect. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter increases and then decreases your heart rate and your blood pressure, helping your heart and leaving you feeling relaxed.    
  • Laughing is contagious. If you have been around someone laughing, after a while you end up laughing too even if you don’t know what you are laughing about. An example of this was the very popular segment in the show Laugh In where Goldie Hawn just laughed. As she laughed, viewers at home just started laughing.  Or who can’t remember the song I Love to Laugh from Mary Poppins? You don’t need to be physically together to catch laughter, and laughing together builds strong social bonds. 
  • Laughter flexes the brain. When we hear laughter, our brain goes to work to sort out what kind of laughter it is, where it comes from, where it is directed to, and how to respond to it. According to the National Institutes of Health, all this activity requires inter brain communication, which stimulates neural pathways and thus exercises the brain.
  • Laughter is a key factor in strong relationships. Couples who, in conversation, spent time laughing simultaneously ranked high in global evaluations of relationship quality, closeness, and social support.

Last year, the actor Goldie Hawn issued a laughing challenge on social media asking people to post videos of themselves laughing in order to help ease the stress of the pandemic which yielded lots of videos of people laughing. So think about what makes you laugh. Watch some comedy shows or movies, chat with friends, and find ways to make each other laugh. Or, just start laughing, and keep laughing until you have caught a serious case of the giggles. Have a good snort laugh and boost your mood, your friendships, your immune system, and your overall health.