Humor Heals: Health Benefits of Laughter and Humor
“The best doctors in the world are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.”
- Jonathan Swift
We all know that the simple act of laughing can make us feel better. Humor injected at the oppropriate time can make a dull and down moment a fun and exciting one. However, often neglected, is how beneficial humor and laughter can be for our health.
Below is just a partial list of those benefits.
Humor and Laughter for Pain Reduction
We can outline three possible ways in which laughter and humor can help reduce the perception of pain.
1. Shifts our attention. Our perception of our pain increases the more we pay attention to it. Humor can be used to distract our attention away from our pain.
2. Reduces muscle tension. When we feel pain our natural reaction is to tense muscles around the painful region of our body, worsening the feeling of pain. In addition, we can sometimes find ourselves in pain due to tension itself, such as when we have tension headaches. Laughter can cause the loss of tension in the skeletal muscles and thereby reduces, and sometimes relieves, pain when tension exists.
3. May help create endorphins. According to The Laughter Presciption by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Bill Dana, studies show that laughter may help produce the bodies natural pain killers known as endorphons:
“Mirth and laughter stimulate the brain to produce catecholamine…which prepares us to respond physically for either fight or flight. The arousal hormone in turn stimulates release of endorphins–our natural painkillers. As the level of endorphins in the brain increases, the perception of pain decreases. Laughter, then, causes our bodies to produce our own painkillers. It has also been evidenced that the increased level of catecholamines in the blood can reduce inflammation.”
Humor and Laughter for Stress Reduction
Stress is impossible to escape from. Actually, everytime we have to adapt to new siutations (or believe we do), or anytime we feel stongly about anything, we experience some level of stress. If we were not to feel stress, we may not be living at all. However, much of our stress is self imposed, coming from our anxieties and by nonproductive worrying. Having a humorous outlook can help diffuse our anxieties and can give us a broader world view in which we are less likely to worry about trivial things. In addition, as we mentioned previously, the act of laughing reduces tension providing us with muscle relaxation.
Humor and Laughter as Anti-Depressant
Humor can help with depression in a couple of ways. First, having something to laugh at can distract somebody from their feelings of dissappointment, guilt and lack of self-worth. A reprieve from these feelings may lead to an openess to a positive self image. Second, having a humorous perspective implies having the ability to step back from one’s immediate perception of the world and see the world through a wider lense. By cultivating this humorous outlook, one may be able to see themselves more objectively and outside their normal negative thought patterns.
How Humor and Laughter Enhances Your Immunity
In their book The Healthy Body Healthy Mind Handbook Dr. David Sobel M.D. and Dr. Robert Ornstein PhD note the following research study results:
1. Watching funny tapes of Richard Pryor Live temporarily boosted levels of antibodies in saliva which help fight off infections such as colds.
2. People who reported using humor often as a means of dealing with stress consistently had higher baseline levels of these antibodies.
3. People who supposedly have a “strong” sense of humor do not have the expected drop in immune function following exposure to stress.
Laughter as a Cardiovascular Workout!
When we laugh our heart rate and blood pressure temporarily rise, we breath faster, oxygen surges throughout our bloodstream, and several muscles get exercised. Our face, shoulders, diaphragm, abodomen, and other muscles are involved when we give out a good outburst of laughter. Laughter is even referred to as “inner jogging” as it can burn up as many calories per hour as a brisk walk.
So the moral in all of this? Laugh hard and laugh often. Your health depends on it!
Humor Health References for this Article:
- The Laughter Prescription – Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Bill Dana
- Healthy Mind Healthy Body Handbook – Dr David Sobel M.D. and Dr. Robert Orstein PhD.
- Laugh After Laugh: The Healing Power of Humor - Dr. Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D.