The Psychology of Laughter
By Lynn Blamires feature writer for My Local Utah
Laughter is a daily decision. While a smile will lift your spirits, laughter is a factor in improving health.
Laughing Is a Factor in Good Health
According to the Mayo Clinic, research has found both short and long-term benefits. Laughter can increase oxygen to the heart, lungs, and muscles, increase the endorphins released by your brain, improve your mood and reduce physical pain.
Writer Norman Cousins, in his novel Anatomy of an Illness, describes his rigorous recovery from a debilitating illness. It was a painful collagen illness that rendered him immobile. He learned that only one in every 500 people diagnosed with this affliction fully recovers.
To begin with, he had to learn why his body was reacting the way it was and how to reverse the damage. In his review of recent happenings, he ascertained that an unusual series of stressful events had rendered his immune system vulnerable to toxic fumes concentrated in his downtown location. He needed to learn how to restore his immune system.
Cousins learned that negative emotions, such as frustration or suppressed rage, are linked to adrenal exhaustion. Assuming the opposite to be true, that positive emotions – love, hope, faith, laughter, and confidence would yield positive results.
He also learned that he was on a regimen of 28 pain medications that could cause internal bleeding. Under his doctor’s care, Dr. William Hitzig, he took high doses of Vitamin C to combat deteriorating adrenal glands.
For the unbearable pain, he turned to Marx Brothers films, Candid Camera, and humorous books. He quickly discovered that a mere ten minutes of induced hearty laughter would produce about two hours of painless sleep. Though he relied on Vitamin C to physically repair his immune system, he relied on the often-overlooked medication of laughter to mentally cure his condition and live to the age of 75.
Laughter Is Not Something You Can Control
Today we have a greater variety of shows and movies that can induce laughter on the myriad of media available for our entertainment. I say induce because laughter is not something you can generally control. It is a reaction to a situation or something unexpected.
Children Laugh More Than Adults
It is generally accepted that children laugh more than adults. For a number of reasons, the number of times a person laughs in a day is difficult to enumerate. Trying to create a normal situation captures most of those reasons, but it is generally accepted that an adult becomes more serious with age. So where an adult might laugh between 17 and 20 times in a day, a child’s number would be closer to 300 times.
There are some reasons for this that are worth discussing. Laughter most often occurs with groups in social gatherings. Adults spend more time alone in pursuit of careers and don’t have as many opportunities to enjoy the healing nature of laughter. Children on the other hand have more opportunities to play with their friends and participate in situations that produce laughter. Adults must create social situations that will provide the recipe for healthy laughter.
Laughing Plays an Important Role in Families
I believe that a major benefit of families is to help adult parents get in touch with their inner child. Family activities give an opportunity for parents to take off their “adult,” set it aside, and get down to eye level with their children and play together.
Picture the father who has spent the evening with his daughter and answers the door forgetting that he has been “made up” complete with lipstick, full makeup, and with curlers in his hair. My oldest son became an expert at playing house with his daughter. He was even able to make the correct horse sounds.
Laughing Produces a Primal Noise
Laughter is a primal noise and often you can identify a person just by hearing their unique brand of glee. My youngest son has a laugh that comes in rapid bursts. An entire Seinfeld show was written around the unique laughter of some of the characters.
Other People’s Misfortunes Can Be Funny
Often laughter is produced at the expense of other people’s misfortunes. There is a feeling of superiority generated by the person who laughs at these situations. That may sound bad, but look at the television programs and YouTube videos that depict this kind of humor – America’s Funniest Home Videos and The World’s Dumbest Criminals. Just type in “Fail” on the YouTube search bar and watch what comes up.
It Is Good to Be Able to Laugh at Yourself
Happy is the man who can laugh at himself. Type Bill Dance Bloopers into your browser and spend some time watching outtakes of the Bill Dance Outdoors Show. In this case you will find it difficult not to laugh at some of the pickles Bill gets himself into. However, Bill can laugh at himself and instead of laughing at him, you will find yourself laughing with him.
A situation that draws laughter can often build upon itself. Something may be funny and then a twist will double the laugh factor causing laughter to reach a hysterical level. Laughing uncontrollably can cause loss of some body functions. You have heard of the expression “I laughed until I cried.” Well, sometimes some of those tears end up running down your leg.
Laughing Can Make Life Worth Living
Actor Carl Reiner said, “Laughter is my first priority. I watch something every night that makes me laugh…There is no greater pleasure than pointing at something, smiling and laughing about it. I don’t think there is anything more important than being able to laugh. When you can laugh, life is worth living. It keeps me going. It keeps me young.”
Funny Is Well, Funny
There is no universal theory for what makes something funny, but sometimes sounds or words can just be inherently funny. We just can’t explain all the things that are funny and something that might be funny to one person will not even produce a smile in someone else.
“The science of laughter and why it’s good for us” was published on July 1, 2021. Katie Hunt wrote, “A long-running study of couples at the University of California, Berkeley, of more than 150 long-term relationships that started in 1989 has suggested that laughter is the glue that keeps people together. Satisfied couples laugh more than unsatisfied ones.”
“It’s not that the laughter is magic dust. It’s more like laughter is a sign of a relationship where people can use laughter to negotiate a better way together.”
“In defusing tense situations, laughter can make it easier for couples to communicate and maintain relationship bonds – important planks of relationship satisfaction.”
Laughter Is About People, not Jokes
Hunt went on to say, “Laughter is 30 times more likely to occur in the company of others than when one is alone. It’s also contagious. You’re much more likely to laugh if you hear someone else laughing.”
I remember watching an experiment that was a video on YouTube. A man got on a bus and began reading a book. Apparently oblivious to the people around him, he was laughing about the contents of the book, and not quietly. His bursts of laughter soon had everyone on the bus laughing out loud.
Laughter Builds Connections with People
Hunt concluded by saying, “It’s hard to separate the benefits of laughter and the context in which you would laugh. As such, if you want to harness the healing power of laughter, a funny movie might help – but it’s really the connections laughter builds with other people that count.”