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The science of laughter

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Laughter boosts immunity, mental health, learning and more. Seriously.

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Exercise, sleep, diet and stress-management are critical for immunity. But there’s a lesser known way you can boost your health (plus a whole lot of other things). In these uncertain times, laughing yourself silly may just be a smart thing to do.

The health benefits of laughter

The science of laughter—though still preliminary—suggests that it has benefits for our health and psychological well-being. Here are just five examples from this emerging research:

Physical Health. A review of the existing research suggests that humor and laughter may boost immune function.  Another study found that even just anticipating a funny event decreases potentially detrimental stress-related hormones. In another study, laughter was found to lower stress and inflammation and increase good cholesterol.

Mental Health. Laughter is wonderful for stress relief.  A review of research on laughter therapies suggests they can reduce anxiety, depression and perceived stress. Laughter makes you feel happier and releases endorphins in the brain, and puts you in a better mood, as several studies have shown. Even a short period of laughter per day can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Ever had nervous laughter in an awkward or difficult situation? That’s because laughter may help you regulate your emotions in the face of challenge, as one study suggests. 

Memory & Learning. When we are trying to learn something new, we’re usually pretty serious, but research shows that a good laugh while learning new material will help you engage with it more and learn faster, even in toddlers. Humour can facilitate learning, even in online courses. This study showed that laughter can sharpen your ability to remember things.

Relationships & Attractiveness.  Research shows that laughter makes you more open to new people and helps you build and strengthen relationships. A recent study confirms that humour and playfulness are highly valued traits in potential romantic partners. Humour is important in romantic attraction.

Community Well-Being. Research has shown that happiness is contagious. You being happier impacts three degrees of separation around you (your child’s teachers’ hairdresser is happier if you are happy). And laughter too is contagious, at least on the level of the brain, according to research by Sophie Scott.

 You might also enjoy this article on keeping your eyes safe.

Author: EMMA SEPPÄLÄ, Ph.D., is a Lecturer at the Yale School of Management and Faculty Director of the Yale School of Management’s Women’s Leadership Program. An international keynote speaker and author, she is the author of The Happiness Track  (HarperOne, 2016), which has been translated into dozens of languages. She is also the Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.


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