Despite the enormous benefits of laughter, we are often just too tired and stressed to take the time to indulge in a good belly laugh. Today, adults just do not laugh as we used to—regardless of how much our body, mind, and soul benefit from it.
The health benefits of laughter are even more far-ranging than we ever before believed, showing that laughter can help relieve pain, bring greater happiness, and even increase immunity. Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline), while also increasing the level of health-enhancing hormones such as endorphins. It increases the number of antibody-producing cells we have working for our immune system and enhances the overall effectiveness of T cells. This means a stronger immune system and fewer manifestations of the physical effects of stress, such as exhaustion, depression, insomnia, and weight gain.
Dopamine is the main player in regulating the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. Laughter, exercise, sunlight, and certain foods can all increase the release of dopamine in your brain’s reward center. The reward center is the same combination of brain areas (the ventral striatum) that are affected by virtually all pleasurable activity, including everything from hanging out with friends to getting a big bonus at work. When dopamine levels are low, you lose your zest and enthusiasm for life and begin to experience great difficulty completing tasks, since this neurotransmitter is critical for sheer motivation, interest, and the drive to achieve.
We would not typically consider laughter important to well-being, but researchers are finding evidence that it is. Psychologists have found that being silly, losing yourself in the moment, and engaging in something pointless but pleasurable, like enjoying the company of friends, is essential to stress reduction, healthy relationships, and maintaining a sense of well-being. Laughing also increases the effects of GABA in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that affects how people experience anxiety, fear, and stress. GABA blocks certain signals in the brain that contribute to feelings of anxiety. A stronger GABA effect can create a sense of calmness.
From this biochemical perspective, laughing is one of the most positive, healthy, and easy things we can do for ourselves. It can provide us with a huge lift, physically and emotionally. When you engage in laughter, you experience a physical cleansing effect, as well as a sense of emotional release. Laughing is also great for the heart and increases oxygen levels throughout the body.
Laughter also connects us with others. It’s as simple as that. Like smiling and kindness (or even yawning), most people find that laughter is irresistibly contagious. Laugh more and you can most likely help others around you to laugh more and feel happier as well.
And if you lift the moods of those around you, you can also reduce their stress levels, all of which will inevitably improve the quality of your interactions with them, reducing everyone’s stress level even more. Laughing, smiling, and enjoying one another is truly one of the best ways to diminish a tough, stressful, or negative situation. Laughter draws our focus away from anger, negativity, hopelessness, bitterness, and guilt like nothing else can.
The act of laughing can bring you into the moment, which is something we desperately need. Our rigid schedules often consume us and leave us constantly thinking about the next thing we need to do. Since our cultural norm is to juggle many demands of life at once, we’re regularly running on high stress levels. But sometimes, for our own well-being and future productivity, we need to forget about getting things done.
Play and laughter are among the few aspects of our lives that aren’t about the outcome, but about the acts themselves, and that is so healing. So enjoy the people around you and give yourself to a pleasurable, gut-busting laugh. You’ll boost your immune system, lower your stress levels, and help those around you do the same.
Nisha Jackson, nationally recognized hormone and functional medicine expert. Renowned lecturer, motivational speaker, radio host, columnist, author of best-seller “Brilliant Burnout.” Founder of OnePeak Medical Clinics in Oregon. For 30 years, her approach to medicine has successfully reversed chronic problems such as fatigue, brain fog, depression, insomnia, and lack of stamina.