Updated: Mar 17
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.
What is Laughter Therapy?
Because there are many benefits to laughter, Doctors can use laughter to treat certain illnesses and manage depression and pain. The concept of laughter therapy refers to the psychotherapeutic technique that provides physical, mental, and emotional benefits through laughter. Laughter therapy is widely used in addition to other therapies and treatments for certain diseases. It has been shown that laughing for a minute is equal to 45 minutes of relaxation.
To take advantage of the fact that laughter is contagious, laughter therapy is carried out in courses and workshops where the stimulation of laughter is practiced in a group. Laughter therapy aims to improve your psychological and physical condition through laughter. When people laugh, their mood, mental state, and stress levels improve. It is not a medical therapy as it does not cure diseases, but it improves the personal health of those suffering from chronic pain and different conditions. For people suffering from a terminal illness, laughter therapy brings a sense of normalcy that is otherwise hard to find when you are in crisis mode.
How does Laughter Therapy work?
We now know that there are a lot of benefits to laughter, but how does laughter therapy work? In short, it all has to do with the amount of oxygen in your body. Laughter increases your oxygen intake, which in turn leads to the relaxation of your body’s muscles and the stimulation of your heart and lungs.
Benefits of laughter therapy
Numerous health benefits follow when your muscles relax, and your heart and lungs are stimulated. Here are some of the most significant benefits of laughter therapy:
1. Strengthens your immune system
Laughter produces endorphins (your “feel good” hormones). When your level of endorphins increases, the immune system is strengthened, providing better protection against certain diseases.
2. Pain reduction
Pain reduction is probably one of laughter’s most promising applications. A study at Texas Tech University found that people who laughed at a funny video shown to them tolerated more pain than those who didn’t watch the same video. Humor may help temper intense pain.
3. Improves blood circulation
Laughter improves blood circulation, which strengthens your cardiovascular system. One of the main benefits of a strengthened cardiovascular system is the reduced chance of suffering from cardiovascular diseases.
4. Relieves stress and improves your mood
One of the best effects of laughter is that it relieves stress. Laughter helps you get rid of stress caused by daily routines and teaches you how to be more positive.
5. Regulates intestinal transit
Because laughter therapy will cause you to feel relaxed, it improves your intestinal transit, which in turn helps protect you against gastrointestinal disorders.
6. Prevents insomnia
Laughter therapy has been shown to release a hormone called melatonin in your body. Melatonin is also known as your sleep hormone. Thus, laughter helps you fall asleep easier, rest better, and avoid insomnia. Better sleep will, in turn, lead to a better quality of life.
Types of laughter therapy
There are different types of sessions where laughter therapy is used. Laughter yoga, workshops and group sessions are all successful in many patients. Clinical therapies can be used on an individual basis. Through this type of therapy, therapists will find a patient’s laughter triggers and use them as a tool to help them deal with emotional stress. On the other hand, integrative therapies combine traditional Western medicine with laughter therapy to give patients a holistic approach to treatment.
If you prefer not to make use of any formal laughter therapy setting and would prefer to laugh more on your own, you could try the following approaches:
Spend time with funny people
Tap into funny entertainment
Look for humor
Get a pet. Studies have shown that pet owners naturally laugh more.
Laugh at yourself
Find daily humor in shows or on social media
Be intentional about it, when you can't find anything to laugh about, watch a comedy show / stand-up comedian.
Now you might be asking if having great humor or being a lighthearted person will add years to your life? And the answer is probably not. However, a study at the University of California found that optimism and a sense of humor in childhood can be related to longevity. This may be because optimistic people will often take more risks while thinking, “I’ll be okay.”
Fortunately for you, we are all born with the ability to laugh. “If laughter cannot solve your problems, it will definitely dissolve your problems; so that you can think clearly what to do about them” – Dr. Madan Kataria.
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2. The Science of Laughter | Psychology Today. https://imnotdeadyet.today/References/ScienceOfLaughter.html
3. Laughter Therapy: The Surprising Ways Laughter Can Heal .... https://waterbottles.healthyhumanlife.com/laughter-therapy-surprising-ways-laughter-can-heal/
4. 120 Inspirational Quotes About Laughter. https://www.laughteronlineuniversity.com/quotes-about-laughter/