• Alex Jarvis

WHY LAUGH? HUMOUR & MENTAL HEALTH


You and I have heard this before: laughter is the best medicine. Surely, there’s hidden wisdom in it. It's been found that laughter is a great form of relief from stress. Whether you're LOLing at a sitcom or standup comedy on TV or giggling quietly at a cartoon, laughing is really good for you.


Yes, a good sense of humor isn't the cure for all ailments, but there's increasing data about the positive effects of laughter on our health. According to experts in the field of positive psychology, humor is a character strength; and, to positive psychologists, character strengths are virtues that are crucial to human thriving (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) *


There's an intrinsic link between humor and positive wellbeing as it make sense that those with good sense of humor are at a better position in: weathering difficult situations, spotting humor in all kinds of experiences, and benefiting from more positive mental & physical health (Martin, 2019).*


These concepts are backed by empirical research, such as:

  • Sense of humor is linked with increased life satisfaction and a more engaged & pleasurable life (Ruch, Proyer, & Weber, 2010).

  • Laughing (engaging in a humor exercise) is linked with positive mood (Edwards, 2013) and positive outlook/cognitive appraisals (Maiolino & Kuiper, 2016).

  • Humor is reported as among the top 8 of 24 character strengths and is linked with increased life pleasure, life satisfaction, and life engagement (Samson & Antonelli, 2013).

  • Adaptive humor is associated with increased stable positive mood and reduced stable negative mood (Cann & Collette, 2014).*


An important caveat: While these findings are true, the type of humor one employs also plays a crucial role in differentiating its impact. From Cann and Collette's research (2014), positive outcomes were linked with self-enhancing humor, while negative ramifications (e.g. reduced quality in relationships & low self-esteem) result from unhealthy humor (e.g. sarcasm & self-belittling jokes). It's been found that having pro-social humor is equally important to the absence of harmful humor (Martin, 2019).*


A Case Study


The impact of humor on stress was studied in detail by Heidi Fritz, Leslie Russek, and Melissa Dillon published on Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, June 2017. One study just focused on the overall influence of humor on stress. The research examined 21 patients suffering from Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder, where patients experience a different level of physical discomfort and have difficulty sleeping.

They filled out mood scales -and scales that measure their daily mental and physical functioning- for four days. This diary includes measuring their psychological distress (i.e. presence of anger, anxiety & depression and the absence of wellbeing & calm). They also filled out a scale that measures their use of humor. Results reveal that the tendency to use humor (in general) was linked with lower levels of psychological distress.**

Why laugh?


SHORT-TERM Benefits


When you laugh, it doesn't just lighten your mental or emotional load, it actually helps induce physical changes in the body, such as:

  • Soothing tension. Laughter can aid muscle relaxation and stimulate blood circulation. Both help reduce some physical symptoms of stress, like tensed muscles.

  • Stimulating many organs. Laughter helps enhance intake of oxygen-rich air, increase the release of endorphins (happy hormones) in the brain, and stimulate the lungs, heart and muscles.

  • Activating & relieving stress response. A roaring laughter fires up your stress response and then cools it down. It can also increase and then decrease heart rate and blood pressure –which result to a relaxed feeling.


LONG-TERM Effects


Laughter isn't only a quick pick-me-up, but it has lasting effects as well. It can:

  • Relieve pain. Laughter helps ease pain by inducing the body to supply its own natural painkillers.

  • Improve immune system. Negative thoughts and feelings translate into chemical reactions in the body that potentially bring more stress into the system and reduce immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts and feelings actually induce neuropeptides that help repel stress and fight more serious illnesses.

  • Improve mood. A lot of us experience depression, sometimes because of chronic illnesses, and currently due to the pandemic. Laughing more often helps lessen sadness & depression and can make you feel happier.

  • Strengthen bonds. People with sense of humor enjoy more cohesive relationships and have more friends (strong social network). Humor helps us connect with other people easily. Who doesn't want a good laugh, and who doesn't like a humorous friend? Having this support network helps us weather through difficulties.

  • Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter helps make it easier to face problems and puts us in the process of looking at a situation in different ways (by finding humor in it).

There's little doubt that humor enables us to cope better with stress and difficulties. It's long been believed that “humor and laughter play an important role in the maintenance of both psychological and physiological health and wellbeing in the face of stress” (Lefcourt & Martin, 1986).*


So, how to maximize this character strength? Watch standup comedy, read funny books/stories, spend more time around funny people, play with a pet (it's unbelievable what wonders they can do that make you heart smile), AND don't take yourself too seriously (embrace your inner child –it's really okay to let your guard down).



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Content Credits *https://positivepsychology.com/humor-psychology/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

** https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ulterior-motives/201706/humor-sometimes-makes-stressful-situations-better

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