Is laughter really the best medicine?

Heard of the saying, “A day without laughter is a day wasted”? As it turns out, a jolly giggle is vital for physical and mental wellness. Here is why.

Laughter truly is a universal language that not only makes us feel good, but also has incredible wellness benefits.

As we gear up for Global Belly Laugh Day on January 24, let’s look at the science and joy behind laughter, as well as tips for getting more of the good stuff in your life.

What happens when we laugh?

When we laugh, endorphins are released, our whole body relaxes, stress decreases, and we feel good.
Ros Ben-Moshe, author of The Laughter Effect – How to Build Joy, Resilience and Positivity in Your Life, emphasises the role of laughter as a stress buster, reducing tension, fear and anxiety.

“Laughter increases oxygen levels in your body, which optimises healthy body and brain function, (and) improves concentration and productivity levels,” Ros says.

She says laughter can even lower your blood pressure and strengthen your immunity.

“Genuine belly laughter manually moves your diaphragm, which prompts lymphatic circulation to remove waste fluid around our cells and remove waste products, dead cells and any unwanted microorganisms,” Ros explains.

What is laughter yoga?

One way to ensure you get enough laughter in your life is to take up laughter yoga – a practice that combines laughter exercises with yogic breathing techniques.

“Laughter yoga was developed in Mumbai in 1995 by Dr Madan Kataria, who was researching for a journal article about laughter as the best medicine,” Ros says.

“He decided to gather a group of five of his friends in a park in Mumbai and tell jokes; they felt fabulous afterwards and decided to meet again the next day.

“Together with his wife, a seasoned yogi, they devised a combination of simulated laughter exercises combined with pranayamic breathing and clapping whilst chanting ‘ho, ho, ha, ha, ha’.

“It is aligned with the philosophy of ‘act as if’ you are happy, then you will be happy.”

How to get more laughter in your day

“Don’t leave laughter to chance,” Ros advises.

“Find a laughter buddy – someone you can laugh freely with, without judgement.”

Ros says it’s easier to laugh in company, whether that’s with someone in person, on the phone, or next to you on the couch when you’re watching TV.

“Start by inviting someone to share something funny that happened to them, or they observed during the week,” she suggests.

Ros says 15 minutes of laughter throughout the day is optimal.

“If you are laughing with people to connect and experience joy, I don’t believe there’s such a thing as too much laughter,” she adds.

Long-term benefits of laughter

Beyond the immediate joy it brings, experts say laughter can also provide the following long-term wellness benefits:

Reduces negative emotions

Psychologist Molly Young says laughter can release us from negativity and discomfort by reducing the stress we’re experiencing.

“As well as stress, laughter can also reduce our anger and frustration – it is pretty difficult to remain angry while we are laughing,” Molly, of Solution Psychology in Melbourne, says.

Boosts our immune system

Molly says that over time, laughter can even work to improve our immune system by triggering positive thoughts which, in turn, can release neuropeptides that help fight illnesses.

“Laughter and associated positive thoughts can help to fight ongoing stress and bring our immune system back up to scratch,” Molly says.

Creates connection

Laughter also builds connection, which is imperative for positive mental health and wellbeing.

“It’s a language that all humans speak, and we use it in times of difficulty and of joy, drawing us together and influencing us to feel positively about ourselves and one another,” Molly says.

Ros agrees: “No matter your age, laughter is a super-bonder.

“Sharing a smile or laugh builds a connection and helps convey a sense of ease, enhancing mood and helping to alleviate feelings of worry or concern – there’s no comparison between a text message of LOL versus the real thing.”

So, is laughter really the best medicine?

“Just like good sleep, a nutritious diet and regular exercise, laughter provides a lot of benefit to our physical and mental health and wellbeing,” Molly says.

She says while laughter isn’t a cure-all, there’s no doubt that it brings us together, does good things for our insides, helps our brain, and makes us feel good.

“And feeling good, strong and positive empowers us to feel that we are able to cope,” Molly says.

More ways to boost mind and body wellness:

Written by Andrea Beattie.