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13 Jun 2024

Why life should be a laughing matter.

Laughter and Smiling

What happens when you smile and laugh? As if with magic intent a chemical reaction in your brain releases small proteins called neuropeptides. These tiny molecules maintain immune tolerance and may help fight potentially serious illnesses and may improve resistance to disease.

It does this by decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection fighting antibodies.  In this way resistance to a myriad of diseases is improved.  Laughter also triggers the release of the body’s natural ‘feel good’ hormones (also called endorphins). 

In addition, studies show that smiling can help lower blood sugar and blood pressure, reduce stress, boost immune systems, and release natural painkillers and serotonin (one of the ‘feel good’ hormones). A smile often puts others at ease as well as creating a feeling of closeness and common identity.  Clearly there are social benefits to having a good laugh and smile. 

Researcher Robert Province says laughter is a mechanism everyone has; laughter is part of universal human vocabulary. There are thousands of languages, hundreds of thousands of dialects, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way. Babies have the ability to laugh before they speak. Children who are born blind and/or deaf still retain the ability to laugh.


The good news from the good books

Proverbs 17 v 22 from the Christian religion teaches a cheerful heart is good medicine.  Buddhism says always have a smile on your face, give up frowning, loosen a serious mind and be a friend to the whole world.   Over the millennia, these revelations have evolved into what is a well-established belief that laughter is the best medicine.  Combine that with a smile and the benefits increase exponentially. 

Dating back to the times when we were hunter/gatherers, good natured teasing was one way for acknowledging, and accepting, people’s strengths and also flaws.  Getting things off one’s chest is an age old ‘go to’ method for keeping harmony alive and well. 

Coming from the land of the Vikings a 15-year Norwegian based study of humour involved 53, 556 women and men.  The researchers assessed the cognitive, social and affective (something affected by emotions) components of humour, using methodologies that were both valid and reliable.  They examined death from specific conditions:  heart disease, infection, and chronic obstructive pulmonary (lung) disease. 

The findings confirmed the clear link between having a sense of humour and mortality (death).  The ‘laughing into longevity’ stakes are where women come up trumps.  High scores and the humour/laughter scale were associated with 48% less risk of death from all causes, a 73% lower risk of death from heart disease and an 83% lower risk of death from infection. 

Men did not fare so well with the only clear link of death from infection.  Those with high humour scores had a 74% reduced risk.  The gender differences could be due to a slight decline in humour scores as men aged.  Being a ‘grumpy old man’ clearly isn’t a healthy attitude to adopt. 

On a higher plain there is an inexorable link between humour and the heavens.  Swiss theologian Karl Barth captured the heavenly aspect of humour saying laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God. 

“Underlying all that good physiology is the simple fact that when we are laughing, we are also on the way to generally feeling joyful. We are open to ideas, and we take challenges in our stride. The connection with others—especially those sharing the experience—happens in a way where we no longer feel isolated. We move into a place of creativity, experiencing a sense of childlike delight.”

Laughter is the best medicine, or so they say, but what if it really does help people live happier, less stressful lives?

The 'laughter effect' floods us with happy hormones like serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine (the ‘feel good’ endorphins).

On average, adults laugh 10 times a day. Children, however, laugh around 300 times a day.

Research shows that even when we have nothing to smile about, humour can help our health and our happiness.

"Let's face it — the world is not necessarily this happy-go-lucky place all the time and life doesn't necessarily go the way we want it all the time, so laughter helps to really break some of that tension and build connection," author and laughter wellness expert Ros Ben-Moshe told Television New Zealand’s Seven Sharp some time back. "It's a resource that we're born with. We 'ha ha ha' before we 'ma ma ma' or 'da da da' so it's really fundamental to being human."

Ben-Moshe said as we age, we start to think more about laughter and whether it's appropriate for the occasion, or if we've been laughed at.

"So over time, we start to 'think' laughter and not 'laugh' laughter," she said. "Children are very much connected to that sense of play and laughing from the heart so as I say, it's not that it goes away — it just goes deeper within."

It doesn't always have to be genuine to have health benefits either.

"You can absolutely start with intentionally choosing to laugh, intentionally choosing to smile — especially first thing in the day, setting your tone of the day. It really just sends those sorts of signals to our brain to release some of those well-being hormones, such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, which also help to calm down the stress hormones.”

“And as you know, laughter is really contagious so even if we start off with something intentional, it just starts to flow naturally in no time at all."

It's also an accepted fact among anthropologists that laughter is common to all of humanity, even remote tribes unexposed to modern society have been known to laugh, reinforcing the theory that it is a primitive attribute of ours, inherited from a common ancestor and also exhibited by some primates.

So, it would not be a stretch to say that yes, cavemen most certainly laughed!

Caveman and a bear walk into a bar. Bartender says, "what's your story?" Caveman says...Bear with me...

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Published:  June 2024

To be reviewed: April 2027