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Laugh yourself healthier!

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

Written by Health Writer Gerda Venter

Medically reviewed by Dr. Daniela Steyn

A wise woman once said, “He who laughs, lasts!” and I believe truer words have never been spoken. I laugh easily. I can laugh at anything and everything, especially myself. I believe this is key to my happiness. When you are happy, you do laugh easier, but interestingly enough, if you laugh, even when you are not happy, your brain gets the message that you are happy, and secrete happy hormones. This is absolutely fascinating. From a scientific standpoint, you can fake laugh to make yourself happier!

Laughter is an expression of joy and happiness in response to certain stimuli. It is an emotional discharge caused by a psycho-physiological reaction. It consists of rhythmical contractions made by the diaphragm and repetitive syllabic vocalizations and facial expressions. Studies have shown that laughter can strengthen your heart and improve your breathing and digestion. Laughter also releases endorphins, which cause a feeling of happiness and well-being and strengthen emotional ties. It seems that laughter really is the best medicine with all these benefits.

Did you know that laughter activates about 50 facial muscles and 400 body muscles? There are about 16 states of laughter defined in the dictionary. Beware! Some of these might make you chuckle :)

  • Smirk: A smirk is a slight upturning of the mouth corners. It is entirely voluntary and controllable.

  • Smile: A smile is silent, voluntary, controllable, and more perceptible than a smirk. A smile begins to release endorphins.

  • Cachinnate: To cachinnate means to laugh loudly.

  • Grin: A grin is also silent and controllable, but it uses more facial muscles (e.g., eyes begin to narrow).

  • Snicker: A snicker is the first emergence of sound with facial muscles. It is still controllable.

  • Giggle: A giggle has a 50 percent chance of reversal to avoid a full laugh. A sound of giggling is amusing, and efforts to suppress it tend to increase the urge to giggle even more.

  • Chuckle: A chuckle involves your chest muscles and is accompanied by a deeper pitch.

  • Chortle: A chortle originates even deeper in the chest and involves the torso muscles. It usually provokes laughter in others.

  • Laugh: A laugh involves facial and thoracic muscles and abdomen and extremities. The sound of barking or snorting often accompanies it.

  • Cackle: To cackle is the first involuntary stage. When you cackle, your pitch is higher, and your body begins to rock. Your spine will extend and flex, with an upturning of your head.

  • Guffaw: A guffaw is a complete body response. Your feet might stomp, arms might wave, and you might slap your thighs. Your torso will rock, and you will make a deep and loud sound. This may result in free-flowing tears, an increased heart rate, and breathlessness. It is the strongest individual laughter experience.

  • Howl: When you howl, your volume and pitch will rise higher and higher, and your body will become more animated

  • Shriek: Shrieking is done with greater intensity than a howl. When you shriek, you experience a sense of helplessness and vulnerability.

  • Roar: When you roar, you lose individuality. It is not done alone, i.e., the audience roars!

  • Convulse: When you convulse, your body is completely out of control and in a fit of laughter resembling a seizure. Your arms and legs will flail aimlessly; your balance is lost, you will gasp for breath and collapse or fall off your chair.

  • Die laughing: To die laughing means you are experiencing a moment of total helplessness. It is a brief, physically intense, transcendent experience. If you have died laughing, you will feel a refreshing moment of breathlessness and exhaustion with vivid colors and everything sparkling; everything is renewed.

From these 16 states of laughter, the most contagious expression shown when people laugh is a smile. People attract positive feelings when they smile. Consider for a moment a baby smiling for the first time at about six weeks old. The baby is expressing that they are happy and content. Smiling is, therefore, the first sign of communicative behavior in human beings. During the first years of life, smiling is a physical behavior, but it eventually becomes an emotional one with many more uses than showing happiness.

Isn’t it interesting that we somehow laugh at just the right time without consciously knowing why we do it? Most people think that laughter is a simple response to comedy or a mood-lifter, but it is a social vocalization that binds people together. It is a secret language that we all speak. It is not a learned group reaction but an instinctive behavior. It does not matter how happy we feel, laughter is a signal that we send to others, and it virtually disappears when we are not in a group setting. Laughter bonds us.