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Can Laughter Be Medicine?

You may have heard the saying, "laughter is the best medicine." Your thoughts about this may go one of two ways. You may think, "yeah totally," and then actually laugh about it. Or, especially if you're struggling with your mental and/or physical health, think "that's totally stupid and not true." Interestingly, there has been a lot of research on laughter and the effects of it on the body and mind. We'll look at those effects, and then think about some ways you can laugh more often.

In terms of mental health, it has been found that laughter actually increases the amount of positive emotions we feel. By positive emotions researchers mean happiness, joy, excitement, hope, etc. (In my view there are no positive or negative emotions - just emotions we like or don't like - all of our emotions are important!). It also reduces the amount of stress hormones (cortisol) released in our brains, which in turn means we'll feel less physically and mentally stressed. That's pretty good evidence that laughter is at least (if not more) somewhat helpful for our mental health.

In terms of physical health, research has found laughter to have a lot of helpful effects as well. It lowers blood pressure, reduces pain (triggers endorphins to be release - and endorphins are our bodies' natural pain killers), stimulates immune support (more T-cells and disease fighting-proteins are released in our bodies), it releases specific antibodies to fight respiratory tract infections, it increases cardiac function, and it induces relaxation in our muscles. So, in this case, laughter can be good medicine for many things happening in our bodies. I've heard someone say that the best part of laughter as medicine is that there are no negative side effects.

How can we learn to laugh more, especially when our mental and/or physical health is taking a toll?

  • Probably the easiest way is to watch, listen to, or read something funny. Favourite sitcom, a hilarious podcast or comedy show, or a humorous book are all great ways to get us laughing.. and when you do laugh, try not to do the internal "hahaha," just let it out for all to hear! I've laughed out loud listening to podcasts as I've walked to work.

  • Another way is to hang out with a friend, family member, etc. that is pretty funny. Most of us know at least 1 person like this. The person that every time you hang out they are making jokes and/or bringing a smile to your face. Playing games, especially with friends, often induces laughter. Think about games such as What do You Meme? or Cards Against Humanity.

  • Try laughing at yourself. Rather than get upset with yourself for the "stupid thing" you did (which probably actually wasn't stupid), try laughing at yourself for it. We all do silly things, it's totally normal and human.

  • Think about other things, specific to you and your life, that have caused you to laugh a lot in the past, and try to bring more of that into (or back into) your life.

Maybe laughter isn't the "best medicine" in that it may not be a cure, but it seems like pretty good medicine, especially when added into to all the other things you are doing to take care of your mind and body. And don't forget, you can always reach out to a licensed mental health professional in your area for help.


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