As the saying goes, “Laughter is the best medicine,” but does humor really improve well-being? The short answer is yes, humor can positively impact our physical and emotional well-being.
The Benefits of Humor
Laughter can have many benefits on our everyday lives.
- Decreases stress hormones – Laughter can lower the level of stress hormones in our bodies.
- Completes the stress cycle – When we feel stressed out or threatened, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode. To come out of this stressed state, we can take different actions that restore our bodies to relaxation mode. Laughter is one action that can complete the stress cycle.
- Improves memory – Some studies show that laughing can boost our ability to remember things.
- Boosts the immune system – Laughter helps increase the number of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, in our blood. These lymphocytes help protect us from diseases.
- Helps regulate and lower blood pressure – Laughing can help us decrease our resting blood pressure.
- Reduces tension – Laughter can boost circulation and muscle relaxation, helping us relax.
- Decreases pain – Laughter causes the body to produce endorphins, a brain chemical that reduces our perception of pain.
- Reduces feelings of anxiety – Laughter can decrease feelings of anxiety by releasing beta-endorphins, a hormone in the nervous system that creates a feeling of joy. Beta-endorphins counter adrenaline and cortisol, hormones related to our fight-or-flight mode and stress.
Laugh Tracks and Emotional Contagion
Many sitcoms such as Cheers, Seinfeld, Friends and The Big Bang Theory use laugh tracks in each episode. They do this because the “canned laughter” can actually make us feel like the show is funnier.
It turns out that humans change how they act and how they feel based on what’s going on around them; this is called “behavioral mimicry.” Because of this, a laugh track can help classify the tv show as funny, prompting the audience to laugh along.
Like a laugh track, we can also cause something called emotional contagion. If we’re having a bad day, we can easily spread that negativity to those around us; if we’re trying to have a good day, our positivity can be spread to our colleagues.
By identifying our emotions and emotionally self-regulating, we can help make our surroundings more positive. We can also use humor to brighten up the workday for ourselves and our colleagues.
Integrating Humor into Your Day
Here are some everyday tips to use humor to decrease feelings of stress and spread joy:
- Find photos or greeting cards that make you laugh. Make them part of your workspace so you can see them often.
- Print or make copies of comic strips that make you laugh and tape them up in your workspace.
- Find comedy shows and movies or standup comedy to watch when you need a boost. Silly animal videos work, too!
- List three humorous things that you observed each day. James Cleveland did this as a “happiness guinea pig” on The Science of Happiness podcast linked below.
- Spend time with young children or pets! The perspective and playfulness of children and pets can often lead to humor and laughter.
- Spend time regularly with friends or family members that make you laugh. If you can’t meet in person, use Skype or FaceTime to see each other smile!
- Look up some work-appropriate jokes you can share with your colleagues.
Right Place, Right Time
Since everyone’s sense of humor is unique, it’s important to understand and respect that something could be funny to some and offensive others.
Also, it’s important to know what kind of humor is appropriate in the workplace. There are often topics that aren’t appropriate for discussing or joking about with colleagues. Additionally, something you and a colleague think is hilarious might be offensive or hurtful to a passerby, so it’s important to be considerate of others.
No matter your particular sense of humor, enjoying humor and comedy weekly can help you stay emotionally and physically well. With so much potential for chronic stress in the workplace and in the world, it’s important to find small ways to add humor and laughter to our daily lives. Because we can spread positive emotions to others through emotional contagion, sharing humor and positivity at home and at work can help others stay well, too.
Resources and Related Reading/Listening:
Stress Relief from Laughter? It’s No Joke – Mayo Clinic
Is Laughter Really the Best Medicine? – Northwestern Medicine
7 Ways Laughter Can Improve Your Well-being – Stanford Medicine
4Mind4Body: Humor – Mental Health Association
Complete the Stress Cycle to Stop Feeling Emotionally Drained – Emily and Amelia Nagoski, authors of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle
Anxiety – Find the Humor – Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Make ‘Em Laugh – The Happiness Lab podcast with Dr. Laurie Santos
3 Funny Things – The Science of Happiness podcast