What are the benefits of laughter and how can you bring more of them into your life? Let’s start with a question.
When was the last time you laughed?
Really, really laughed.
Laughed so hard your sides hurt. Laughed until you cried.
I remember being at a dinner with some team members and our clients and their partners.
It started from the smallest incident. Whilst talking, my German colleague accidentally projected the smallest amount of spittle right into my British colleague’s beer. The latter subsequently delivered one of his characteristic, off-the-cuff responses, promptly drank the beer and licked his lips.
Our German colleague’s laughter became uncontrollable. The rest of the team had never seen him cry with laughter like that before, and it was infectious.
One by one, the rest of the team started to laugh. And we didn’t even know what we were laughing at! We only found out later what had kick-started the raucous laughter that went on to engulf the restaurant.
We all instinctively know it feels good to laugh, but what are the benefits of laughter?
People who know me say I am often smiling or laughing. It is my default position on most of life. It has given me laughter lines that would delight a botox technician.
Maybe laughter does gives you wrinkles, but it makes for a fundamentally better world and here’s why this free on-tap elixir works on so many different levels.
1. Laughter is good for your health
When people say laughter is the best medicine, it is based on actual science. The health benefits of laughter are well-documented. As Jennifer Aniston used to condescendingly say to us in that shampoo ad, as she let someone else explain the benefits of ceramide, “Here comes the science bit. Concentrate.”
Not only does laughter relax the body, but it also triggers those lovely endorphins and reduces cortisol levels. It is quite easy to see what the immediate, psychological benefits of laughter can be in the way it improves your mood and so naturally eases signs of depression or relieves anxiety.
Laughing pumps oxygen into the blood, just like a good workout. This boosts the immune system and protects the heart.
And so, whilst working on your stress levels, a hearty laugh does actually work those abs too. That said, if your laughter is enhanced by several glasses of Chardonnay as per my previous example, I’d hazard a guess that the muscle toning is being cancelled out!
Ok, that was limited science, but I am admittedly no scientist (and I am also of the female gender like Ms Aniston, so maybe we should leave the science to a male voice over).
2. Laughter bonds people
Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy.
This is one if the major social benefits of laughter.
Laughter can cross generational divides. It can cross cultural divides. It can cross social or professional divides.
I was presenting once on crisis communication, and a guest speaker from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was explaining how the country had managed the communication around its Ebola outbreak. Equally, he was sharing with us how his colleagues had thought it dreadfully dangerous to come to France, and to this particular seminar, because of the violent yellow-vest demonstrations, which were currently taking place every weekend.
Not the funniest of subject matters, but there was some humour to be found in the levelling realisation that his countrymen were as scared of coming to France as we were scared of going to the DRC and potentially contracting Ebola.
What was even funnier was that the interpreter who was accompanying the workshop started laughing so hard, she couldn’t interpret anymore.
She popped her head out and said, “Oh I am so sorry. That’s just the funniest thing I have heard in a while!”
She became one of us from that moment on.
3. Laughter diffuses tension
On a physiological level, laughter does actually help to bring more oxygen to the body and brain, and this calms us down. (Accidentally slipping a little more science in there)
Laughter takes the tension out of a situation and gives us perspective.
I remember when I first moved to France 15 years ago, I was quickly cajoled into giving a presentation to the entire global team, who had had been flown into Paris.
It was in a huge auditorium and the top management team had front row seats. My new manager had reworked my entire PowerPoint on the train to Paris (without my agreement) and it was now unrecognisable. I had studied French but had effectively only been in the country a couple of months.
It had all the elements to be a perfect storm of a catastrophe, and I felt it.
As I started to present, I heard myself say, “If I mention a few English words along the way, it is not because I want to sound educated. It is just I don’t know them in French.”
The tension lifted from the room with those two lines, as a ripple of laughter ran around the hall. I only realised later — when I bumped into one of my new colleagues in the toilets and she secretly congratulated me — that the use of English to sound more knowledgeable was exactly what the entire management team did on a frequent basis.
Faux pas aside, my intention had been to deflect the pressure and it had worked.
4. Laughter is sexy
“A man can laugh me into bed.”
My friends always laugh at me when I say that.
That is until they get laughed into bed themselves and concede that this nugget of wisdom may hold some truth.
A sharp sense of humour is incredibly sexy … and remember if a guy or girl you like has got you laughing, it is also releasing those feel good endorphins into your system and creating a potent cocktail as it mixes with the love hormone oxytocin.
To mix the cocktail and laughter metaphors, you can think of it as happy hour.
So, if you’re searching for your significant other, maybe less of the heavily filtered, semi-clad selfies and work on those knock-knock jokes.
5. Laughter is a gift to others
The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.
Yes, laughter is a gift!
And it is free.
There is a lot to be said in life for empathy.
Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. And to do that you take yourself out of your own well-worn shoes for a moment.
Maybe you have heard this before, therapists advise people who suffer from depression and negative thought patterns to read biographies. By reading about others lives, you stop navel gazing for a moment and start to look at your own situation for what it is: one of many in world of 7 billion people.
It’s not to say that your problems aren’t there any more, but it dilutes their significance.
Spend time cheering others up and you will not only get the instant gratification of making someone else smile or laugh, but you will also gain objectivity on your own issues, for having spent the time helping other people forget theirs.
Is it bad to laugh too much?
Scientists published a study some years back in the British Medical Journal. Of a study of about 5000 people, it suggested laughter can provoke fainting, headaches, asthma attacks, arrhythmia and incontinence. It can even kill you.
Make of that what you will. I would suggest that if you have the urge to laugh, you may create more stress in the body trying to stop it.
Laughing to Death. LTD.
I can personally think of worse ways to go.
What can laughter hide?
The eternal joker is easy to spot. It is the person who enters the room and brings a breath of fun with them. They have the witty repartee; the quick fire, funny responses to any situation at hand.
In my experience, those who joke constantly can sometimes (not always) be compensating for other things: a lack of confidence, a lack of self-worth and maybe even a difficult personal life.
Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.
Frederick W. Nietzche
Think of that person in your entourage who is always cracking a joke.
Remember how we talked earlier around how humour can be a deflective mechanism to reduce stress. Maybe that joker in your entourage carries a stress that is hidden from you.
Appreciate the joy of being with a joker, but maybe from time to time, try and talk to them on another level. Show your vulnerability and they might feel safe in showing you theirs.
Who knows? Maybe they will be happy to let someone in.
Fake it to make it?
Are we healthier because we laugh or do we laugh more because we are healthier and in a more positive frame of mind?
It’s a fair enough question.
Laughter is in many ways a social phenomenon. You often share it with others and so we can link the benefits of laughter to spending time in the positive company of good friends, family or colleagues.
These opportunities don’t offer themselves spontaneously to everyone. So, what can you do if that is the case?
Have you heard of laughter yoga?
Laughter yoga was made famous by the medical practitioner, Madan Kataria in his book Laugh For No Reason in 2002. There are now groups in over 50 countries.
You experience the same physical and physiological benefits from laughter, whether it comes naturally or is provoked. And so laughter yoga mixes breath work and laughter to get people laughing in a group.
You can check it out here.
Once started, more often than not, the laughter in the room becomes contagious and you find yourself laughing and you’re not sure why.
Just like that time my colleague accidentally spat in my other colleague’s beer.
The benefits of laughter are clearly documented. There are many ways to find happiness and laughter in life. Sometimes it is just a case of looking.
A poll conducted by a holiday company in the UK back in 2005 concluded that the average Brit laughed for a mere 6 minutes a day at best. They spent the same amount of time making tea.
This figure had (apparently) dramatically dropped from the daily 18 minutes our ancestors spent laughing in the 1950s. Heaven knows where we are at today!
Keep smiling. Keep laughing.
And before I go, just to get you on your way…
A man walks into a bar …
Photo: ID 17232608 © Kschua | Dreamstime.com