Laughter. The physical reaction in humans and some other species of primate, consisting of rhythmical and often audible contractions of the diaphragm and other parts of the respiratory system, a response to both external and internal stimuli. But why do we laugh? It helps to clarify social intentions in groups, providing emotional context to conversations, signalling acceptance and positive interactions with others. Yet all this isn’t even remotely funny. What is funny is that the study of humour and laughter, plus its effects on the human body, is known as ‘gelotology,’ and yes, I do wish that was the study of Jello, but it just isn’t. Nor is gelotophobia, the fear of being laughed at. Also, that’s not a fear of gelato. The word for that is pagotophobia and the word for the fear of Jello is jangelaphobia. Seriously. Also, that’s not the fear of jangly things. Sadly, there is no name for that…
Laughing is fascinating. Rats laugh, for example, when they’re tickled. It encourages bonding and displays happiness. Although the thought of a happy rat doesn’t amuse me. Another study asked couples to talk about things that annoyed them about the other person in the relationship. Then, the couples were asked to laugh and smile about the whole thing. The couples that did, versus the couples that didn’t, reported higher levels of satisfaction in their relationship and stayed together for longer. So that’s the solution after your next row with your beloved. Laugh in his face. Yes, I’m fairly confident that won’t cause a further row. Also, this only works for small things. Walking in on your hubby in bed with the milkman won’t be a problem fixed with laughter. In fact, if you started laughing in that situation, I’d be quite worried. “Sweetheart, this… this isn’t what it looks like, I mean – oh shit, I’m so, so sorry, honey…” “HA, HA, HA, HA, HA!”
And science has yet more to say about laughter and relationships. Studies have found that you can actually laugh someone into bed. The number one thing we look for in a partner is a sense of humour, and another study found that we find strangers more attractive if they laugh at our jokes. So there’s a top tip for those of you looking for a one night stand. Laugh at everything the girl you’re hitting on says to you. Well, okay, not everything. “THIS IS MY CAT, YODA.” “OH, HOW LOVELY!” “HE DIED YESTERDAY.” “HA, HA, HA, HA – Oh, shit, no, I’m sorry, I never – where are you going, Ange?” “IT’S LOUISE, YOU JERK!”
Yet still there are many myths about laughter. One suggests that laughter burns more calories than going for a run. This is not true. Whilst laughter does raise the heart rate by around 15%, this is on the order of burning an extra 10 to 40 calories for every 10 to 15 minutes laughing. Thus, you would have to laugh non-stop for three hours to burn off a packet of crisps. Not impossible, but not practical, either.
But is it a myth that laughter is the best medicine?
We know laughter is contagious. We have what’s known as mirror neurons in our brains, which cause us to smile when someone else smiles at us. Laughter also reduces our stress response. When our muscles contract, our blood flow is increased as is our oxygenation. Thus the heart and lungs are stimulated, triggering a release of endorphins that help us feel relaxed in every sense of the word.
One study even found that laughter boosts our immunity. Remarkably, this study found that certain types of laughter boosts natural killer cell levels, a type of white blood cell that attacks cancer cells. Laughter reduces blood sugar levels, increasing glucose tolerance. It can improve job performance if your job involves creativity and problem solving. Laughter also combats depression. Even forced laughter releases a cocktail of hormones, neuropeptides and dopamine that can start to improve your mood. It can even relieve pain. Whilst laughter doesn’t reduce pain levels, studies have found that people are less bothered by any pain they are experiencing. Laughter can be a powerful thing.
So yes, laughter is real good for you. But as for it being the best medicine, I’d say judge each situation on a case-by-case basis.
I mean, if you’ve just been bitten by a snake, I don’t think laughing will help you.
Although at least you’d go out smiling…
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