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Chewing The Scientific Fat

The link between laughter and health

By Shelsie Delphin 7/17/2015

man laughing

     Although humor pervades our daily lives, we have not been able to formulate a concrete definition for it. The reasoning may lie within the fact that humor is so versatile. That is, people find many different things to be humorous, and therefore it is hard to boil it down to one meaning. Indeed, this complex phenomenon can serve a great purpose that is directed towards our well being. A good joke, or whatever sparks this phenomenon in our minds, usually produces the physical effect of laughter. What caught many researchers' interests, though, as well as my own, is Norman Cousins, who is often quoted in many studies involving health and humor because of his self-prescribed treatment regimen involving humor and large doses of vitamin C. He claims that by following this regimen, he was able to reduce the effects of his chronic illness, allowing him to live longer than what doctors predicted for him. With that, this prompted researchers to conduct studies of their own. These studies have found that laughter can have physiological, psychological, and emotional health benefits. It's no wonder the saying “laughter is the best medicine” has been floating around since the beginning of time.

Where's the science?

     So far, what I have presented is just glorified hear-say. To that point, let me say that many studies have found that laughter can reduce levels of stress (Martin, 2004; McLeod, 2010; Sinnot, 2013; Wheeler, 2013). In a society where there are a multitude of things going on at once, such as dealing with the pressures from work, family life, and concerns about health; people are prone to high levels of stress. Granted that, there are two likely types of major stressors that can be experienced, which are life events and chronic strains. The first type, life events, are important specific events that interrupt an individual's usual activities and require them to make adjustments, such as the death of a loved one or finding out about an illness (Weiss & Lonnquist, 2014). The second, chronic strains refer to enduring problems, conflicts and threats people face on a daily basis (Weiss & Lonnquist, 2014). Consequently too much unrelieved stress can a have negative impact on the body, “when we are stressed, the body's ability to fight off antigens is reduced, that's why we are more susceptible to infections” (McLeod, 2010). Under stressful conditions the body releases two hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. High levels of these hormones can have detrimental effects on the body, which include suppressing the immune system, constricting blood vessels, as well as the effects pictured to the lower right. (Wheeler, 2013). A suppressed immune system disables the body to properly protect the body against disease and pathogens.

the effects of cortisol

Where does laughter come in?

     Laughter on the other hand may have opposite effects. That is, when an individual laughs, or is a state of amusement, the brain releases a type of chemical called endorphins, also known as the body's natural pain reliever (you may have felt this after a long run, aka a runner's high). Endorphins reduce a person's perception of pain and play a role in the positive feelings one feels. As a matter of fact, the level of the stress hormone cortisol is reduced dramatically when people laugh which boosts the immune system (Wheeler, 2013). “Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors” stated by Norman Cousins. As stated earlier he was the catalyst that sparked researchers to take more interest in the relationship between humor and health, after stating in his article “Anatomy of an Illness” that 10 minutes of laughter resulted in 2 hours of pain free sleep. Various authors after have suggested, for example, that vigorous laughter exercises and relaxes muscles, improves respiration, stimulates circulation, and increases the production of pain-killing endorphins (Martin, 2004). However, it is important to understand that humor and laughter alone have not been proven, or even come close, to a cure for any disease or illness alone. However, the benefit of positively using humor has the capacity to improve one's quality of life. There's no denying the positive feelings after a good laugh, and in that moment our worries and stress hopefully disappear, even if only for a short period of time. Humor is a medicine fit for all.


Bennett, H. J. (2003). Humor in Medicine . Southern Medical Journal.

D. Sinnot, Positive Psychology: Advances in Understanding Adult Motivation (pp. 79-89).

Springer Science & Business Media, 2013

Martin, R. A. (2004). Sense of Humor and Physical Health: Theoretical Issues, Recent   Findings, and Future Directions. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 1-19.

McLeod, S. (2010). Stress, Illness and the Immune System. Retrieved from Simple   Psychology:

Weiss, G. L., & Lonnquist, L. E. (2014). The Sociology of Health, Healing, and Illness    (8th Edition). Pearson.

Wheeler, E. A. (2013). Amusing Ourselves to Health: A Selected Review of Lab Findings. In J.

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