When people are asked what’s important in their lives, they often mention humor. Humor and laughter bring the pleasure of acceptance, in-group feeling, and bonding, and lots of positive health benefits. In romantic relationships, one of the first things that people say they look for in a mate is a sense of humor, or the ability to make them laugh. So really, is laughter the best medicine?
Laughing is Infectious
I just watched one of Ali Wong’s stand-up comedy shows with my daughter. The show was funny, but what made it really enjoyable was listening to my daughter; she was really laughing, that out-loud, infectious kind of laughter that most people only dimly remember from their childhood. Now, my daughter is one of those people with an incredibly infectious laugh; on multiple occasions, she’s laughed and laughed at something I didn’t even find funny until eventually, I’ll be laughing too.
There seems to be something irresistible about laughter; “laugh and the world laugh with you” may be more than just a saying. It turns out that there is scientific evidence that laughter is contagious. Research suggests that when we see emotional expressions of any kind on other people’s faces, our brain will try to mirror them so that we experience a shared reality with the other person, helping us to bond with them.
Listening to my daughter laugh also made me realize that I am much more likely to smile or laugh when I’m with other people rather than when I’m alone. There seems to be a solid behavioral prescription in this formula: if you want more laughter in your life, spend more time with other people.
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
How Laughing Makes You Feel Better
Whereas happiness is a long-term mindset, laughing is temporary but gives a similar healing injection of those chemicals that make us feel good (dopamine). But whereas happiness is usually a choice, things that make us laugh can often catch us off-guard; but unexpected or not, laughter will always trigger healthy physical and emotional changes in the body. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh.
Laughing may have evolved for some of its benefits. We’ve already mentioned how contagious it is (even more so than yawning) and helps bring people together. This social function is obviously important for a species like us, and so we enjoy laughing. The mechanisms for this enjoyment include effects on the immune system, improved functioning of the blood vessels and heart, increased levels of endorphins in the brain which eases pain, reductions in stress hormones, and wonderfully relaxing effects on the muscles:
Laughing Helps Manage Hormones; Laughter increases health-enhancing hormones like neurotransmitters and endorphins while reducing stress hormones such as cortisol.
Offers an Internal Workout: Laughing is a great cardiovascular exercise; it works the abdominal muscles and the cheek muscles in your face. Laughing on a regular basis increases blood flow which improves the function of blood vessels.
Helps keep you Positive and Fights Against Depression: Laughter can be a great distraction from negative emotions often caused by stress, and again it helps regulate stress hormones.
Has Social Benefits; Laughter is contagious, it can often draw attention to what others are laughing about which opens up opportunities for social activities.
Assists in Fighting Illness; It’s been proven people who are optimistic have stronger immune systems. No matter what illness you may be fighting, laughter can offer an extra boost to the immune system.
Is Humor the Key to a Happy Relationship
Humor, particularly in men, seems to be an extremely attractive trait. A man may not be the tallest, strongest, or most handsome, but he can rise above other suitors with a good sense of humor. There seems to be a number of reasons for this, from cognitive fitness (out of the box thinking, creativity, and intelligence), safety (a sense of humor indicates that a man may try to defuse conflicts by being funny instead of escalating problems with anger), and because being funny is always beneficial when raising children.
Humor is obviously entertaining and makes time spent with someone more fun, but once the initial flirting is over, and you are in a longer-term romantic relationship, how large a role does humor play? It turns out that similarities in sense of humor are not associated with greater marital satisfaction, nor with longer marriages, but married couples overwhelmingly said that humor has a positive impact on their marriages.
Humor doesn’t always work; in relationships experiencing high stress, the more the man tried to be funny, the greater the chance the couple would separate or divorce. But then again, women who have humorous partners enjoy more and stronger orgasms, compared to women who have less funny partners (that’s something that definitely needs more research). Laughter is the best medicine, but it seems that when you decide to roll it out is important too!
The Funniest Jokes in the World
I couldn’t close this piece without trying to make you laugh; Professor Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, created an experiment, named LaughLab, in 2002. He created a website where people could rate and submit jokes. The winning joke, which was later found to be based on a 1951 Goon Show sketch by Spike Milligan, was as follows:
Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says, “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence; then a gunshot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says, “OK, now what?”
And if that didn’t work, time for something completely different.
Monty Python’s Funniest Joke in the World
“The Funniest Joke in the World” is a Monty Python comedy sketch. In the scene, Ernest Scribbler, a British “writer of jokes“, writes a joke that is so funny that anyone who reads or hears it promptly dies from laughter, he himself, dies after reading his own joke. Ernest’s mother, taking the joke to be a suicide note, also immediately dies laughing after reading it. After more deaths from laughing, the British Army wish to determine “the military potential of the Killer Joke” to use against the Germans in World War II.
The German translation of the joke:
“Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer? Ja! Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!”
described as being “over 60,000 times as powerful as the English version,” is then used in open warfare, with British soldiers running through an open field amid artillery fire at Ardennes shouting the joke at the Germans, who die laughing in response.
And the joke lives on; if you paste the German version of the joke into Google Translate, instead of an English translation the program returns “[FATAL ERROR].” Try it!
Go Ahead and Laugh
We tend to like people who make us laugh because humor is a sign of common interest. Anything ‘contagious’ spreads easily and affects those you’re in contact with; laughter is probably one of the few emotions that are not only visually a delight, but also more often than not pleasing to the ears.
Laughter is the best medicine; find something that makes you laugh out loud every day; make your own and someone else’s day.