Laughter Is Good Medicine

Video Source: The Atlantic

By Dr. Joseph Mercola | mercola.com


  • Anthropological research suggests laughter and humor are genetically built-in, and that humor, historically, has functioned as “a social glue.” The critical laughter trigger for most people is not necessarily a joke or a funny movie, but rather another person
  • Laughter is contagious. The sound of laughter triggers regions in the premotor cortical region of your brain, which is involved in moving your facial muscles to correspond with sound
  • While children laugh on average 300 times a day, adults laugh only 17 times a day on average. Suggestions for how to get more laughter in your life are included
  • In one study, even after adjusting for confounding factors, the prevalence of heart diseases among those who rarely or never laughed was 21% higher, and the ratio of stroke 60% higher, than among those who laughed every day
  • Benefits of laughter have been reported in geriatrics, critical and general patient care, rehabilitation, home care, hospice care, oncology, psychiatry, rheumatology, palliative care, and terminal care

Many studies support the notion that optimism has a beneficial influence on your health. So, what about laughter? Indeed, there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that laughter is good medicine, too, both physically and psychologically.

Anthropological research suggests laughter and humor are genetically built-in, and that humor, historically, has functioned as “a social glue.” As noted in the 2016 article,1 “Did Early Humans Have a Sense of Humor?” published by the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing:

“Much like shell beads allowed the wearer to signal that they are a member of a community, joke-telling builds community. Victor Borge is credited with the saying ‘laughter is the shortest distance between two people.’

Alongside the physical evidence of the expansion of human wisdom, perhaps laughter and humor is showing the increasing interconnectedness of human populations.”

Laughter — A Social Mechanism

Real, involuntary laughter involves brain mechanisms (many of which remain a mystery) and triggers unexpected sensations and thoughts. When you laugh, your entire body may be affected, from your facial expressions and breathing patterns to the muscles in your arms and legs.

In the video above, Robert Provine, Ph.D.,2 who has been studying laughter for 20 years, explains some of the fascinating reasons why we laugh and what this primal mechanism reveals about our psyche.

According to Provine, the research he’s conducted suggests the critical laughter trigger for most people is not necessarily a joke or a funny movie, but rather another person.

After observing 1,200 people laughing in their natural environments (a process he described as “sidewalk neuroscience”), Provine and his team found that laughter followed jokes only 10% to 20% of the time.

In most cases, the laughter followed a banal comment or only slightly humorous one, which signals that the individual is more important than the material. Often, there was a playfulness in the group and a positive emotional tone as well.

Interestingly, nearly half the time it was the speaker doing the laughing, as opposed to the “audience,” but virtually all of the laughter occurred in a group setting. In fact, one of the key reasons why we laugh maybe as a way to bond with others and strengthen our relationships.

Laughter Is Contagious

The saying “laugh and the whole world laughs with you” is more than just an expression: laughter really is contagious. The sound of laughter triggers regions in the premotor cortical region of your brain, which is involved in moving your facial muscles to correspond with sound.3 As explained by Provine in a Psychology Today article:4

“Since our laughter is under minimal conscious control, it is spontaneous and relatively uncensored. Contagious laughter is a compelling display of Homo sapiens, a social mammal.

It strips away our veneer of culture and challenges the hypothesis that we are in full control of our behavior. From these synchronized vocal outbursts come insights into the neurological roots of human social behavior and speech …

The irresistibility of others’ laughter has its roots in the neurological mechanism of laugh detection.

The fact that laughter is contagious raises the intriguing possibility that humans have an auditory laugh detector — a neural circuit in the brain that responds exclusively to laughter … Once triggered, the laugh detector activates a laugh generator, a neural circuit that causes us in turn to produce laughter.”

It’s thought that laughter may have occurred before humans could speak as a way to strengthen group bonds, as even today our brains are wired to prime us to smile or laugh when we hear others laughing. Interestingly, while children laugh on average 300 times a day, adults laugh only 17 times a day on average.5

Also interesting is laughter’s distinctive pattern. It rarely occurs in the middle of a sentence. Instead, laughter tends to occur at the end of sentences or during a break in speech, which suggests language is given the priority. As explained by Provine:6

“The occurrence of speaker laughter at the end of phrases suggests that a neurologically based process governs the placement of laughter in speech and those different brain regions are involved in the expression of cognitively oriented speech and the more emotion-laden vocalization of laughter.”

All of that said, it should be mentioned that not all laughter is positive or beneficial. When laughter is cruel or when you’re laughing at someone rather than with them, it can cause social bonds to break and result in serious emotional harm. At the cruel and insensitive end of the spectrum, laughter can be a powerful tool for exclusion, manipulation and even social control.

Health Benefits of Laughter

So, what do scientific investigations reveal about the health effects of laughter? As you might suspect, it’s good for your heart and cardiovascular health.

In a cross-sectional study7 of cardiovascular disease among 20,934 Japanese seniors, published in 2016, they found that even after adjusting for confounding factors such as high blood pressure, weight and depression, the prevalence of heart diseases among those who rarely or never laughed was 21% higher, on average, than among those who laughed every day.

The adjusted prevalence ratio for stroke was even higher — a whopping 60%. According to the authors, the results suggest that “Daily frequency of laughter is associated with a lower prevalence of cardiovascular diseases,” and “The association could not be explained by confounding factors, such as depressive symptoms.”

In the 2009 review,8 “Laughter Prescription,” published in the Canadian Family Physician journal, author William B. Strean, Ph.D., notes there are “several good reasons to conclude that laughter is effective as an intervention.” For starters, virtually all studies on laughter have demonstrated benefits. What’s more, there are virtually no negative side effects.

Morse’s conclusion about laughter and humor in the dental setting summarized the literature to date: ‘Laughter and humor are not beneficial for everyone, but since there are no negative side effects, they should be used … to help reduce stress and pain and to improve healing,” Strean writes, adding:9

“Findings range from suggesting that, in addition to a stress-relief effect, laughter can bring about feelings of being uplifted or fulfilled to showing that the act of laughter can lead to immediate increases in heart rate, respiratory rate, respiratory depth, and oxygen consumption.

These increases are then followed by a period of muscle relaxation, with a corresponding decrease in heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. Overall, the arguments against using laughter as an intervention appear to be … unduly cautious …

The arguments in favor of laughter as an intervention are grounded in the virtually universal positive results associated with existing studies of laughter. Although scholars and practitioners recognize the value of further study, more replication, and identification of specifics, the call for more application of laughter as an intervention seems warranted.”

According to Strean’s review of the published evidence, benefits of laughter have been reported in:

Geriatrics Oncology
Critical and general patient care Psychiatry
Rehabilitation Rheumatology
Home care Palliative care
Hospice care Terminal care

“These and other reports constitute sufficient substantiation to support what is experientially evident — laughter and humor are therapeutic allies in healing,” Strean writes.10 The Mayo Clinic11 and an information pamphlet12 by the University of Kentucky cite even more specifics, pointing out researched benefits of laughter include:

Improved blood pressure Lower levels of stress hormones
Strengthened immune function Muscle relaxation
Pain reduction Improved brain function, including the ability to retain more information
Improved oxygenation Reduced risk of heart attack
Abdominal, facial and back muscle conditioning Improved emotional health and energy levels

Laughter Therapy

A 2015 randomized controlled trial13 looking at laughter therapy for general health concluded it “can improve general health and its subscales in elderly people.”

Here, participants in the experimental group attended two 90-minute laughter therapy sessions per week for six weeks. While no correlation was found between the therapy and social dysfunction or depression, positive effects were seen in general health, somatic symptoms, insomnia, and anxiety.

Similarly, a theoretical review14 published in 2016 argued laughter is a healthy and useful way to combat stress and depression. Its beneficial effects on relationships can also significantly improve the quality of life. As noted by the authors:

“Laughter therapy, as a non-pharmacological, alternative treatment, has a positive effect on mental health and the immune system. In addition, laughter therapy does not require specialized preparations, such as suitable facilities and equipment, and it is easily accessible and acceptable …

Decreasing stress-making hormones found in the blood, laughter can mitigate the effects of stress. Laughter decreases serum levels of cortisol, epinephrine, growth hormone, and 3,4-dihydrophenylacetic acid (a major dopamine catabolite), indicating a reversal of the stress response …

Laughter can alter dopamine and serotonin activity. Furthermore, endorphins secreted by laughter can help when people are uncomfortable or in a depressed mood … In conclusion, laughter therapy is effective and scientifically supported as a single or adjuvant therapy.”

A study15 published in 2010 pointed out there’s a distinct difference between humor and spontaneous laughter, and that distinguishing between the two was necessary to assess outcomes elicited by laugher alone. Once that was done, the evidence (again) confirmed that the act of laughing has “physiological, psychological, social, spiritual and quality-of-life benefits,” and that:

“Therapeutic efficacy of laughter is mainly derived from spontaneous laughter (triggered by external stimuli or positive emotions) and self-induced laughter (triggered by oneself at will), both occurring with or without humor.”

Have You Laughed Today?

When it comes to dosage, HelpGuide.org recommends getting a daily dose lasting 10 to 15 minutes:16

“Think of it like exercise or breakfast and make a conscious effort to find something each day that makes you laugh. Set aside 10 to 15 minutes and do something that amuses you. The more you get used to laughing each day, the less effort you’ll have to make.”

As for how to add more laughter to your day, the University of Kentucky lists several suggestions, including the following:17

Observe young children and follow their lead: Find delight and amusement in the ordinary (for an example, see the laughing baby video above; the simple act of ripping paper is a source of seemingly endless delight)
Watch comedies, go to comedy clubs and read funny books
Spend more time with friends who make you laugh
Remind yourself to play and have more fun
Spend more time with optimistic, happy people
Avoid sources of distress, be it difficult relationships, horror movies or the daily news

Read more great articles at mercola.com

Laughter Works Better Than Pharmaceuticals and Affects the Body Like Exercise

Mae Chan | Preventdisease

GirlfriendsLaughingIt’s no secret that laughter is good for you and, even when indulged in liberally, is gloriously free of side effects. Laughter is a simple stress reducer, a kind of natural Valium, but is also allows us to connect to other people in such unique ways, that it cannot be duplicated through any other method. A body of evidence shows that laughing not only works better than medication, but stimulates hormonal levels in ways similar to exercise.

One pioneer in laughter research, William Fry, claimed it took ten minutes on a rowing machine for his heart rate to reach the level it would after just one minute of hearty laughter. He wasn’t kidding. There is no doubt thatlaughter improves health.

Norman Cousins first suggested the idea that humor and the associated laughter can benefit a person’s health in the 1970s. His ground-breaking work, as a layperson diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, documented his use of laughter in treating himself — with medical approval and oversight — into remission. He published his personal research results in the New England Journal of Medicine and is considered one of the original architects of mind-body medicine.

Dr. Lee S. Berk, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunology researcher at Loma Linda University’s Schools of Allied Health (SAHP) and Medicine, and director of the molecular research lab at SAHP, Loma Linda, CA, and Dr. Stanley Tan have picked up where Cousins left off. Since the 1980s, they have been studying the human body’s response to mirthful laughter and have found that laughter helps optimize many of the functions of various body systems. Berk and his colleagues were the first to establish that laughter helps optimize the hormones in the endocrine system, including decreasing the levels of cortisol and epinephrine, which lead to stress reduction. They have also shown that laughter has a positive effect on modulating components of the immune system, including increased production of antibodies and activation of the body’s protective cells, including T-cells and especially Natural Killer cells’ killing activity of tumor cells.

Their studies have shown that repetitious “mirthful laughter,” causes the body to respond in a way similar to moderate physical exercise. Laughter enhances your mood, decreases stress hormones, enhances immune activity, lowers bad cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, and raises good cholesterol (HDL).

As Berk explains, “We are finally starting to realize that our everyday behaviors and emotions are modulating our bodies in many ways.” His latest research expands the role of laughter even further.

Better Than Pharmaceuticals

The physiological study of laughter has a name –gelotology, and that there are actually researchers who study humor and laughter and how they have an impact on the brain.

Consider a recent study at Loma Linda University, which involved diabetic patients who had high cholesterol and high blood pressure. One group of participants received standard pharmaceutical treatment for these conditions…a second group was instructed to “view self-selected humor” (for instance, watch sitcoms or videos that they considered funny) for 30 minutes daily. After one year: In the laughter group, HDL (good) cholesterol increased by 26% and blood levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) decreased by 66%, on average…in the other group, HDL increased by just 3% and C-reactive protein declined by just 26%, on average. “We are finding to a certain extent that laughter exceeds many of the physiological benefits of several medications,” said Dr. Ramond Jeffrey.

In another study, 14 healthy volunteers were recruited to a three-week study to examine the effects that laughter and distress have on modulating the key hormones that control appetite. During the study, each subject was required to watch one 20-minute video at random that was either upsetting (distress) or humorous (eustress) in nature. 

When the researchers compared the hormone levels pre- and post-viewing, they found that the volunteers who watched the distressing video showed no statistically significant change in their appetite hormone levels during the 20-minutes they spent watching the video.

In contrast, the subjects who watched the humorous video had changes in blood pressure and also changes in the leptin and ghrelin levels.

Specifically, the level of leptin decreased as the level of ghrelin increased, much like the acute effect of moderate physical exercise that is often associated with increased appetite. 

Michael Miller of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore studied the effects of laughter on the blood vessels ability to expand — known as vasodilation. Poor vasodilation can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes by making the passageways prone to being blocked, cutting off vital blood flow.

The researchers asked 20 healthy men and women to watch clips of two movies — either the violent opening battle scene in the 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan” or a humorous scene from a comedy, such as the 1996 “Kingpin.”

The researchers tested the subjects’ vasodilation, before and after the movie, by constricting and releasing an artery in their arms with a blood pressure cuff and then using ultrasound to measure how the blood vessels were functioning.

Overall, blood flow decreased by about 35 percent after experiencing stress but increased 22 percent after laughter — an improvement equivalent to that produced by a 15- to 30-minute workout.

“These kinds of results are impossible to replicate with drug therapy,” said Professor Tracy Stevenson. “We haven’t seen any pharmaceutical drug capable of reproducing the incredible health promoting effects seen from subjects who simply laugh daily,” she stated.

Brain Rewards Us for Laughing

Humor is no laughing matter, according to Dr. Allan L. Reiss of Stanford University in California.

“Humor has significant ramifications for our psychological and physical health,” he stated. Our sense of humor, he said, “often dictates if, how and with whom we establish friendships and even long-lasting romantic relationships.” Humor is also a “universal coping mechanism” for dealing with stress, Reiss added.

The Stanford researcher noted that most people are drawn to humor and that it makes people feel good. “We seem to feel rewarded” by humor, he said.

Researchers found that when a cartoon made a person laugh, a brain network that is known to be involved in reward was activated. In fact, the areas activated by humor have been shown previously to be activated by amphetamines and cocaine, according to a report in the the journal Neuron.

“We believe that utilizing studies such as this may be one way to more specifically identify individuals at risk for depressive disorders,” Reiss said. The research may also be useful in measuring a person’s response to treatment for depression, according to Reiss. The humor reward system in the brain may come “on line” even before symptoms of depression change, he said.

The research may also help explain “humorless” people, who, Reiss noted, may have serious problems in relationships.

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Why DO Grownups Stop Laughing?

James Altucher | The Altucher Confidential 

Dan Harris, the anchor of the ABC show Nightline, had a total panic attack on TV in 2005 in front of 5 milion people. He simply shut down and couldn’t continue while live on the air. Everybody saw it and he thought his career would be over.

He wrote a book about it, called “10% Happier” and we talked about it on my podcast. I won’t give it away. I hope you listen to it.

But I thought of my post the other day about endorphins and one statistic I found:

A kid laughs on average 300 times a day. An adult laughs on average….five times a day.

What the…!?

How did we go from 300 to 5? What the hell happened to us? That’s why we start to panic during the day!

Did we cross some bridge of crap and tears and now here we are: drones that wake up, go to work, backstab each other in office politics, watch Breaking Bad, and then go to sleep and Die? Every single day?

Did someone slip a pill into the Starbucks coffee we drink every day? A no-laughing pill?

Laughter is really hard as an adult. It has to be. Else, how did we go from 300 to 5! That’s a HUGE gap. There is no arguing that something really bad and scary and sad happened to us between childhood and adulthood.

And laughing is so critical.

How many times have you heard the story: So-and-so got diagnosed with chronic bad terminal disease XX and was given three months to live so she decided to watch a comedy movie a day for the next three months and now 15 years later she’s still alive.

Doctors even call laughing, “inner jogging” because it does all sorts of good things for our health, our brain, releases endorphins, and makes us happier, etc etc.

So let’s go back to 300. I thought about why the gap exists. Here’s what I came up with:


In my podcast with Charlie Hoehn he told me he basically solved his anxiety issues by “playing” more. What does this mean? If someone called him up for a meeting he would say, “Sure, bring a ball and let’s meet in Central Park and play catch”.

When I was a kid we’d all go to school, play for 20 minutes or so in the playground, then play for an hour at lunch, and then after 3pm it was ALL SYSTEMS GO and my friends and I would play until about 6 or 7. Until it was DARK and there was no more play to be squeezed from the day.

Every day, from now on, I’m going to play. Forever.


We wear the right uniform to work. We say the right things. We politically figure out which “us” versus “them” we belong to.

People think kids are afraid to be embarrassed in front of their peers. But I can tell you it’s much worse as an adult. Your judged on looks, opinions, what we do moment by moment. I mean, kids cry if they don’t get what they want. Adults can’t do that.

Kids also jump for joy when they are happy. I don’t remember the last time I saw an adult do that.

And kids hit each other. Just for fun. They just slap each other in the face. Go ahead and try that now!

And then later at night, I can speak for myself, I wonder what people think of me. What I wrote. What I said on a podcast. What I said at a party. It’s like I rewind part of the day and replay it, totally wasting more opportunities for fun and laughing.

Did I say or do something wrong?

Answer: yes! Just by thinking about it.


Kids used to fart and then laugh about it. In basements all across the country we even came up with the same rhymes. “If you smelt it, you dealt it”.

Adults don’t rhyme about farts anymore. Instead, they go to the opera. Opera is not funny. At least, none that I’ve been to. Correct me if I’m wrong.


I don’t mean to be a downer on alcohol. People drink. I get it. It’s social.

And, for very very short-term, it helps you loosen inhibitions and there’s a variety of reasons (sex) why one would want to do that.

But the reality is: Alcohol is a depressant. Which means it makes you more depressed.

And everyone basically drinks at night and then wakes up slightly more depressed than their baseline depressions and then goes to work where they become more depressed because works sucks and it’s filled with other depressed people.

Then we feel “stuck” and that we are “trapped” and we need to reinvent ourselves but we don’t know how. We get these vague feelings that we are not fulfilling our purpose in life. Which brings me to…


Purpose is largely a myth that gets encoded into our brains sometime in our 20s and NEVER leaves us again. When I was nine I thought my purpose in life was to hit the ball better in little league baseball.

But when I was 25 I thought my purpose in life was to do something that would CHANGE THE WORLD.

That is a lot of responsibility. Somehow between nine and 25 I went from hitting a ball with a stick to creating a one government world where nobody was angry anymore. And I would be rich.

People get depressed now if they feel they are not fulfilling a purpose in life.

Here’s what I think purpose is: the universe doesn’t know anything. So it cut off tiny pieces of itself to go out there and experience things, any things, and then come back home when they were done.

That’s it. So whatever you are experiencing today, good or bad, the universe is learning and happy and grateful to you because it is exploring new things about life.


No other purpose.

Back to hitting a ball with a stick.

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