Why Laughter is the Best Medicine in the World?
Why Laughing is Good Medicine?
Laughter is not only associated with release of tension induced by danger and signaling non-aggression but also with expressing good, positive emotions. It is a social glue that facilitates approach, contact, and intimacy between people and decreases stress from potential conflict. This could be the basis for the intuitive notion that “laughter is the best medicine.” Serious research is showing that this notion is true. Laughter and humor decreases stress and anxiety, reinforce immunity, relax muscle tension, and decrease blood pressure and pain. Modern medicine is beginning to take advantage of these positive effects; hospitalized children who interact with therapeutic clowns have shorter stays than those who do not. Laughter in humans serves as social glue. It helps us break the ice, get closer to people, dampen hostility and aggression, or soften a refusal. Laughter initiates a chain of physiological reactions. First, it activates the cardiovascular system, so heart rate and blood pressure to fall. Repeated short, strong contractions of the muscles of the thoracic wall, abdomen, and diaphragm increase blood flow into our internal organs. Forced respiration (the ha! ha! of laughter) elevates the flow of oxygen into the blood. Muscle tension decreases, and we may temporarily lose control of our limbs, as in the expression “weak with laughter.”
People suffering from chronic anger have a higher incidence of elevated blood pressure, increased cholesterol level, and heart attacks. While anger, depression, and frustration disturb the function of many bodily systems, including the immune system, laughter helps the immune system to increase the number of type T leukocytes (T-cells) in the blood, which combat damage and infection. Some researchers have dubbed T-cells the “happiness cells.” Laughter may also produce beneficial hormonal changes. Scientists speculate the laughter releases neurochemical transmitters called “endorphins,” which reduce sensitivity to pain and boost endurance and pleasurable sensations.
Laughter’s Social Power
Why does laughter have such pervasive power in our lives? Beyond its physical effects, I believe that the answer lies in our social nature. Laughter appears to be a basic aspect of bonding.
We are creatures who need to build stable social structures to live well. Thus we need to enjoy peaceful relations with the people around us. Laughter is a kind of message we send to communicate this joyful disposition and a willingness to play. We rarely laugh when we are alone. We even feel that someone laughing alone may be crazy.
Laughter has many subtle effects on our social companions. It breaks the ice, achieves closeness, bonds us, generates goodwill, and dampens hostility and aggression. Observe how we laugh when we want to deflate tension between strangers or need to say no to someone. We often laugh when we apologize. Laughter disarms people, creates a bridge between them, and facilitates amicable behavior. Even babies laugh. Since they are too young to have a sense of humor, smiling and laughing must reinforce their connections with their parents and others close to them.
Laughter’s function in social relations may go still deeper. Studies have shown that socially dominant individuals like bosses or tribal chiefs use laughter to control their subordinates. When the boss laughs, everyone laughs. Is laughter, then, a form of asserting power? Morreall speculates that in this way, bosses are “controlling the emotional climate of the group.” Provine and his colleagues observed that women in an audience laugh more often when the speaker is a man. Does this suggest gender differences in how we use laughter? Or reflect men’s generally more powerful social role?
Age differences in laughter have also been noted. Adolescents use it more when they are playing or flirting; executives use it more in a professional context, to increase rapport with someone or win a negotiation. On the other hand, laughter may have a negative connotation, even in our own culture. There is a widely appreciated difference between “laughing with” and “laughing at” someone.