Laughter is good for our health. It relaxes our bodies, relieves stress, boosts our immune systems and helps protect our hearts.
It has wider benefits, too. It strengthens relationships, enhances teamwork, attracts others to us and adds joy to life.
Researchers are discovering humour to be far more important than first realised, says Diarmuid Lavelle, a “solution oriented therapist” based at Dominick Street. He says by seeing situations and issues from a humorous perspective we can gain important insights and even resolve conflict.
“Laugh your way through life is good scientific advice. Essentially however the purpose of humour seems to be the strengthening of social bonds. Although often not appreciated it is an intelligence of its own. An ability to associate information and turn meaning around combines inductive, deductive and lateral thinking.”
Humour is very important in relationships as couples who laugh together have a better chance of staying together, he says.
“The people we get on with are generally the people we laugh with. People who laugh a lot are by and large happier, have better social relationships and recover faster from setbacks. As the saying goes ‘laugh and the world laughs with you’. Having a good laugh with others increases trust, which is very important in relationships, negotiation and business. The beneficial effects of a good laugh can last up to 45 minutes. Women tend to laugh over twice as much as men although men usually enjoy creating the humour. One may be handsome, rich and well educated but if you really want to attract the opposite sex, make them laugh!”
Engaged in fun
Scientists are discovering humour in the animal kingdom as well, he outlines. Young rats emit a supersonic squeak in short bursts when they are playing. They also like to remain in the company of adult rats who omit this sound more frequently than other adult rats. Apes and other animals display a non threatening openmouthed expression often while playing or engaged in fun.
Playing and laughter is essential for learning, he explains. When we laugh a wave of neural activity engulfs the brain stimulating better brain function. Humour gets the brain crackling with activity increasing mental ability and stamina. Teachers, instructors and lecturers often use amusement to increase their audience’s learning.
Humour is a powerful therapeutic resource, according to Mr Lavelle. “When we can laugh at an event in our past it usually means we have resolved it and completed our learning from it. Laughter is a very good resource for resolving conflict for perhaps the same reasons as releasing trauma. Humour increases people’s ability to withstand pain, also. Most parents use ‘tickle therapy’ on their children, we can change a little ball of tearful misery into a chuckling, wriggling, radiant being.”
He points out another important value of humour is social bonding. People bond when they laugh as both are matching each other’s behaviour. Laughter is believed to release oxytocin, a chemical associated with bonding, into the blood stream. Mothers may get an oxytocin hit when they cuddle their babies. We often feel a sense of warmth for people who make us laugh.
“We often share the same sense of humour with our friends and partners with laughter often increasing the bonds between us. Laughter is infectious, there is a documented event of a girls school actually closing down due to a contagious spread of the giggles.”
Everyone has the potential to be funny. People have different types of humour which can be described as sharp wit, dry, slapstick, sarcastic, buoyant, etc, he explains.
“However, most humour fits into just two types - association and surprise. Association includes double meaning, puns, metaphors and similes. Surprise includes exaggeration, and of course the unexpected.”
Is the ability to be humourous genetic or can it be learned? A good sense of humour is more an attitude than a lucky gene, says Mr Lavelle.
“We can, through practice, increase our wit and humour. Psychologists have discovered that only about 20 to 30 per cent of laughter results from jokes. Apparently, we laugh most during ordinary social interaction. We can become more humorous simply by engaging in more humour.
“So if we want good social connections we need to turn up our humour and increase our enthusiasm for play.”
He offers the following tips to help boost your sense of humour:-
Have a laugh
1. Seek out humorous books, films and CDs and go to live comedy shows
2. Create humorous events in your imagination
3. Exaggerate your worries or problems wildly until you laugh
4. Sing often, this lightens the heart and opens us up to fun
5. Swap funny stuff on YouTube and email or text jokes
6. Have five good jokes you can share with anyone
7. Finish your conversations with a humorous note
8. Play jokes on those whom you know would appreciate them
9. Dance, it has a similar effect to singing and you do not have to be good at it
10. Ask yourself is there any reason why you should not be frequently laughing, singing, dancing and having fun?
Why laughter is the best medicine
Laughter is good for your health for a number of reasons. It:-
* Boosts immunity.
* Relaxes your muscles
* Relieves stress
* Improves mood
* Relaxes the body and mind
* Eases anxiety
* Boost relationships
* Helps defuse conflict
* Strengthens positive bonds with others
* Encourages group bonding
* Promotes an overall sense of wellbeing
* Adds joy to life
* Helps release inhibitions
* Changes your perspective allowing you to view situations in a different way
* Enhances resilience
* Helps couples stay together
Facts about laughter
* We tend to laugh with the people with whom we get on well
* People who laugh a lot tend to be happier, have better social relationships and recover faster from setbacks
* Women tend to laugh twice as often as men although men enjoy creating the humour
* When we laugh a wave of neural activity engulfs the brain stimulating better brain function
* We tend to be favourably disposed to people who make us laugh