Physiological, psychological and social benefits
Laughter is a way of communication. At birth, the part of the brain that facilitates laughter is among the first parts of the nervous system to be active. A newborn baby can often smile as a reflex and within a few months before he can speak he connects with others especially his mother through smiling and laughing.
The study of laughter is called gelotology. Scientists have looked at the brain to find out which part of the brain is responsible for laughter.
A study by Peter Derks, professor of psychology at the College of William and Mary looked at the electrical activity that occurred when we chuckle or giggle in response to something funny. He found that about four-tenths of a second after we hear the punch line of a joke—but before we laugh—a wave of electricity sweeps through the entire cerebral cortex in the brain. This would explain that some people who have had strokes often have prolonged bouts of laughter which suggests that damage to the brain can impair our sense of humour and our response to it.
Protects against heart disease
A review of medical literature supports the claim that the act of laughing can increase the heart and respiratory rate with increased oxygen consumption, leading to muscle relaxation with a decrease in heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.
A study with 300 participants (half with heart disease and half without) found that those with heart disease appeared to be less likely to find reasons to laugh. Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Centre for Preventative Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Centre reports that laughing reduces the fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and dilates the blood vessels.
Improve Immune System
Our stress hormones are decreased when we laugh, making us feel better, less anxious and depressed. It also improves our immune system by allowing our immune cells to function better.
Cope with Pain
In a study done by Dr. Margaret Stuber from the University of California’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Centre, she found that humour helped kids tolerate pain longer. In her study, her young patients who watched funny movies could still feel the pain of a standardized pain test (in this case, dipping their hands into icy cold water) but they could endure it better because they were distracted.
The benefits of using laughter and humour as therapeutic aids in healing have been reported in many fields including: geriatrics, oncology, critical care, psychiatry, rehabilitation, rheumatology, home care, palliative care, hospice care, terminal care, and general patient care.
Robin Dunbar, a psychologist at Oxford reported that the physical act of laughing; the simple muscular exertions involved in producing the familiar ha, ha, ha, trigger an increase in endorphins which are known for their feel-good effect.
In a survey of the use of complementary therapies 50% of all cancer patients and 21% of a group of breast cancer patients used humour or laughter therapy.
John Morreall, a philosopher, believes that the first human laughter may have begun as a gesture of shared relief at the passing of danger. And since the relaxation that results from a bout of laughter inhibits the biological fight-or-flight response, laughter may indicate trust in one's companions. He also believes that laughter is a way of using power. By controlling the laughter of a group the dominant person (boss, patriarch or tribal chief) can use this power to control the emotional climate of the group.
Laughter is contagious and brings us together. At a gathering we naturally gravitate towards the group where we hear laughter. Laughter lowers our natural anxiety to strangers making is easier to form new friendships. It is part of our human nature and we all love someone who makes us laugh.
Three theories of why we find things funny:
- The incongruity theory- When we first hear a joke we are already anticipating the outcome. If the jokes goes in an unexpected direction we have to change our way of thinking and these two sets of incompatible thoughts and emotions at the same time leads us to a humorous response.
- The Superior Theory – We can laugh at jokes that focus on someone else's mistakes, stupidity or misfortune. We feel detached and superior from the situation and to this person.
- The Relief Theory - At times of high tension humour and laughter can be used to diffuse and release our pent-up emotions. This theory is often used in the cinema; the director may use comic relief at just the right moment after building up tension or suspense. This cycle is then repeated throughout the film.
Not everything is funny to everyone
Have you ever heard a joke and everyone else is laughing except you. If so you will be pleased to know that humour is different for everyone.
As we age our outlook on life changes as well as what makes us laugh.
- Infants and children are discovering their world around them and tend to find simple concepts funny as well as jokes about bodily functions especially “toilet humour”
- Teenagers often feel awkward and tense and use humour as a way of protecting themselves or to feel superior. They often laugh at jokes that focus on sex, food or rebellion; using strong language and themes which some adult may consider offensive.
- Adults –As we get older our sense of humour is more subtle, more tolerant and less judgmental about the differences in people. Most often we laugh at things that we have experienced through embarrassment or a shared common predicament.
Where jokes are made and pointed towards a particular culture be it on economic, political or social issues only those people living in that culture may understand and enjoy it.
Laughter is a universal language which everyone understands.
Make 2015 the year that will change your life; make you happier, keep you fitter and more popular.
Tell a joke and remember to laugh - especially on 24th January 2015 as its Global Belly Laughing Day!