Written by Slawomir (“Swavak”) Gromadzki, MPH
“Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.” Charlie Chaplin
Do you know that rats laugh when they’re tickled, and the more they play together, the more they laugh. The first scientist who discovered that rats can laugh was psychologist Jack Panksepp. In order to hear rats’ very high pitched laughs he used a special equipment.
Laughter increases the feel-good hormones – endorphins which strenghten our immune system and are regarded as powerfull pain-killers. It gives similar benefits as aerobic exercise. Laughter is a great way to cope with the effects of stress. And it is good to know that our body can’t really see any differsence between real and fake laughter – so any giggle (real or fake) will do the trick 🙂.
Laughter doesn’t seem to come easily to all of us, but even if you are not able to induce a genuene loughter and try to imitate it it will still benefit your health. Fortunately the body can’t actually distinguish between real and fake laughter. So faking it has the same beneficial effect.
Dr Lee Berk of Loma University Medical Centre, has been conducting laughter therapy research for decades. In 1989, Berk studied the effects of laughter in healthy males. Five experimental subjects watched an hour-long comedy while others didn’t. Blood samples taken from the participants revealed that cortisol (the hormone our body releases under stress) had decreased more rapidly in comparison to the control group. The research has also revealed that the level of natural killer cells (immune cells that fight virus and cancer cells) was increased through laughter. These same cells are suppressed if the body suffers consistent long-term stress.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have also discovered that just 20 seconds of laughter could be as good for the lungs as three minutes of vigorous exercise.
If you’re not sure the laughter therapy is worthy to try, remember that children laugh about 400 times a day whereas adults manage a miserable 15!
Laughter therapy trains us to laugh even when we are not happy. Laughing in spite of anger, stress or anxiety will actually improve your mood. And it’s contageous, so you will see others around you to start laughing or at least smiling too..
For years, the use of humor has been used in medicine. Surgeons used humor to distract patients from pain as early as the 13th century. Norman Cousins claims to have cured himself with a self-invented regimen of laughter and vitamins after years of chronic pain. In his book Anatomy of an Illness, he describes how watching comedies helped him recover. After evaluating participants before and after watching a comedy or funny video, studies have revealed that laughter helped to reduce pain, decrease stress-related hormones and boost the immune system.
Many hospitals now offer laughter therapy programs as a complementary treatment to illness. For people living with cancer, it may seem odd to try laughter and humor when facing such serious issues. Yet, laughter is a powerfull imune system booster and in this way alone may lead to recovery. Laughing can also induce physical changes in the body. After laughing for only a few minutes, you may feel better for hours.
When used in addition to the natural and even conventional cancer treatments, laughter therapy may help in the overall recovery.
According to studies, laughter may provide the following benefits:
Boosts the immune and circulatory system
Laughing for 15 minutes burns up to 40 calories
Improves short-term memory
Enhances oxygen intake
Relaxes muscles throughout the body
Triggers the release of endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers)
Improves digestion/soothes stomach aches
Balances blood pressure
Improves mental functions (i.e., alertness, memory, creativity)
Strengthens social bonds and relationships
Dr Fry proved that laughter works like a good physical exercise and can decrease your chances of infectious diseases. He demonstrated that laughter causes our body to produce endorphins (natural painkillers and feel-good hormones).
In one study patients who experienced heart attack were divided into two groups: first was placed under standard medical care while the second watched humorous videos for thirty minutes every day. It was discovered that as a result of watching comedies and humorous films that produced ten minutes of laughter gave two hours of pain-free sleep.
According to another experiment patients who watched humorous videos and laughed lower blood pressure, had fewer arrhythmias, lower levels of stress hormones, and required lower doses of medication. Those who didn’t laugh had two and a half times more recurrent heart attacks.
Dr Hunter (Patch) Adams inspired millions of people by bringing laughter back into his hospital and putting into practice the idea that “healing should be a loving human interchange, not a business transaction”.
Dr Annette Goodheart has been using laughter to treat cancer, AIDS, depression, and other illnesses and been teaching at universities, schools, organisations and public events, trying to bring laughter to every part of the world.
Dr. Provine found that jokes are not very effective in inducing laughter as laughter followed jokes only about 10-20 percent of the time. In most cases, laughter was created by just a banal comment even if it was only a slightly humorous one, which shows that the person is more important than the material in triggering laughter. In addition, social laughter occurs 30 times more frequently than solitary laughter. It means that it is much easier to laugh when we spend time with others than when we are alone.
Cousins N. Anatomy of an illness as perceived by the patient. N Engl J Med. 1976;295(26):1458–63.
Provine RR. Laughter: a scientific investigation. New York, NY: Viking Penguin; 2000.
Berk RA. The active ingredients in humor: psychophysiological benefits and risks for older adults. Educ Gerontol. 2001;27(3–4):323–39.
McCreaddie M, Wiggins S. The purpose and function of humour in health, health care and nursing: a narrative review. J Adv Nurs. 2008;61(6):584–95.
Slawomir (“Swavak”) Gromadzki