Most people would agree that laughter makes us feel good, often serving to alleviate negative emotions in the moment, such as sadness or nervousness. In fact, that sensation of stress relief derives from internal chemical processes that occur during the body’s physiological response to humour (DiSalvo, 2017). A wide body of research has linked those resulting biological processes to improvements in the symptoms of some mood disorders, as well as with a number of physical health benefits (Yim, 2016).
To understand more on the physiological function of laughter and its associations with improved mental and physical health, we examine some of the existing research on the subject below.
Laughter and Its Effect on the Brain
Research has shown that laughter has the potent physical effect of releasing endorphins, the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters of the brain (DiSalvo, 2017) (psychologytoday.com, 2020). It’s the same rush associated with “runner’s high” and other physical activity, as chemical endorphins are also created in response to many different things, including exercise, spicy food, excitement, love, and more (Welsh, 2011). While most forms of endorphin release are typically associated with exercise, touch, or massage, researchers believe endorphins are released during true laughter due to the associated physical exhaustion that occurs in the abdominal muscles (Welsh, 2011).
Clinical studies have shown laughter to have beneficial effects on such mental conditions as stress and depression (Yoshikawa et al., 2018). In addition, it has been found to lower anxiety, improve mood, release tension, and foster resilience (psychologytoday.com, 2020).
Other Benefits to the Body Resulting from Laughter
Those attending wellness college may find it interesting that the benefits of laughter extend beyond its potential to improve mental health conditions. According to research, it’s also been shown to induce short-term physical responses in the body, such as enhancing a person’s intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulating the heart, lungs, and muscles, and activating and relieving the body’s stress response, leading to a more generalized feeling of relaxation (mayoclinic.org, 2020). These physical responses can lead to health benefits such as a boost in the immune system, improved circulation, and protection against heart disease (psychologytoday, 2020). Research has also shown that laughter may even cause the body to produce its own natural painkillers, helping to alleviate pain symptoms (mayoclinic.org, 2020). This effect is once again associated with the endorphins produced by laughter, due to this neurochemical’s ability to switch off the human pain response (Welsh, 2011). Long-term health benefits have also been linked with laughter, including improvements to the immune system (mayoclinic.org, 2020).
How Those Enrolled in Wellness College Can Harness the Research on Laughter
Those seeking a wellness counsellor diploma will be looking to implement various strategies to help clients improve their mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Because of its many benefits, laughter can be a wonderful thing to recommend. Clients can be instructed to actively seek out opportunities to laugh more, either on their own, by reading books or comic strips they find humorous, or watching something on TV that brings plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. They might also choose to spend more time with friends and family members that make them laugh. Laughter yoga is also an activity that can be recommended, where laughter is practiced as a group, and can turn from forced to spontaneous very quickly (mayoclinic.org, 2020). No matter how laughter is brought about, clients should be encouraged to laugh as a simple activity to achieve better overall wellness.
Are you interested in attending a wellness college in Vancouver?
Contact Rhodes Wellness College today to learn more about our Wellness Counselling Diploma Program!
DiSalvo, D. (2017). Six Science-Based Reasons Why Laughter is the Best Medicine. Retrieved from www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2017/06/05/six-science-based-reasons-why-laughter-is-the-best-medicine/?sh=7fe736307f04
Yim, J. (2016). Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27439375/
psychologytoday.com (2020). Laughter. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/basics/laughter
Jay, M. E. (Brittanica.com, 2020). Sigmund Freud. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sigmund-Freud
Welsh, J. (2011). Why Laughter May Be the Best Pain Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/16038-laughter-soothes-pain.html
drugs.com (2018). Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/drug-class/ssri-antidepressants.html#:~:text=SSRI%20stands%20for%20Selective%20Serotonin,the%20%E2%80%9Cfeel%20good%20hormone%E2%80%9D.
Cha, M. Y. & Hong, H. S. (2015). Effect and Path Analysis of Laughter Therapy on Serotonin, Depression and Quality of Life in Middle-Aged Women. Retrieved from https://synapse.koreamed.org/articles/1003058
Yoshikawa, Y., et al. (2018). Beneficial effect of laughter therapy on physiological and psychological function in elders. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6279721/
Sabato, G. (2019). What’s So Funny? The Science of Why We Laugh. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/whats-so-funny-the-science-of-why-we-laugh/
mayoclinic.org (2020). Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456
Wildgruber, D., et. Al (2013). Different Types of Laughter Modulate Connectivity within Distinct Parts of the Laughter Perception Network. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0063441