HOW TO LAUGH MORE EVERY SINGLE DAY — AND WHY IT’S SO GOOD FOR YOUCategory: Newsworthy Notes
When we laugh, our brain activity changes in ways that lower our stress response. You may have heard that old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Well, it turns out there really is some medicinal merit to a good guffaw.
“Laughter is the physical manifestation of finding something funny, and it can help to reduce inflammation and stress hormones, improve circulation, and enhance the immune system,” says the Everyday Health Wellness Advisory Board member Heidi Hanna, PhD, founder of Synergy Brain Fitness, a consulting company that creates cognitive performance programs, and also a fellow of the American Institute of Stress. Her claims about laughter are based on evidence published in studies in publications such as the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal, Medical Hypotheses, and Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.
Laughing changes brain activity, explains Hanna, who is also a certified humor professional with the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH), a nonprofit organization.
Research that looked at the brain activity of people who were laughing showed that laughter can stimulate healing gamma waves, similar to those seen in long-term meditators. It’s this effect on the brain that can improve your well-being in some surprising ways.
“Just a moment of laughter can allow us to think more clearly and creatively and strengthen a sense of connection with others,” adds Natalie Christine Dattilo, PhD clinical psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School.
Dattilo, who is also founder of the Priority Wellness Group, a mental health consultancy that offers coaching for individuals, couples, and companies, says she regularly prescribes laughter as a complementary therapy for depression or anxiety.
You can’t be both laughing and stressed at the same time, since a good chuckle triggers the release of feel-good chemicals that help alleviate pain and angst, making it a really good way to turn off the stress response that kicks in from everyday stressors (like a traffic jam, a kitchen spill, or an unpleasant interaction with a friend or colleague), Dattilo says. “Laughter is one of the fastest ways to feel better.”
A meta-analysis of 45 randomized controls looked at the effect of laughter (either spontaneous or “simulated”), compared with control groups (usual or no intervention), and found that laughter boosted mental health — via better mood, well-being, quality of life, and less anxiety, depression, and fatigue — in people who had mental or somatic disorders (defined as disorders in which physical symptoms cause emotional distress, per Mayo Clinic). The biggest benefit was found when people laughed with others (compared to alone), as funny vibes can be contagious.
This bevy of benefits led Jennifer Ashton, MD, the chief medical correspondent for ABC News, to take on a month-long laughter challenge. “I’m not proud of it, but I’m not someone who works hard, plays hard — I definitely work hard, but I play very little,” Dr. Ashton wrote in her book The Self-Care Solution: A Year of Becoming Happier, Healthier, and Fitter — One Month at a Time, in which she chronicles the challenge. Ashton admitted that she doesn’t often embrace her inner childlike silliness, and that was something she wanted to change.
She brought this silliness into her life by regularly wearing a tiara during the month. She’d wear it as she got ready to film her ABC News segments, kept it on her countertop in her apartment to remind herself to chill out and laugh, and placed it on her head whenever she needed a five-minute chuckle. It never failed to lift and lighten her mood.
Six Tips for Bringing More Laughter Into Your Life
To bring the funny to your life, you don’t even need to laugh out loud, says Dr. Hanna: “Just finding something funny or amusing can have the same benefits.”
Humor allows you to see things in a new and unexpected way, she explains. “It’s not about making difficult things funny or ignoring pain and suffering, but allowing ourselves to also see the lighter side of life more often as a way to release the tension and recharge our own battery.”
Here’s how to bring more giggles and chuckles into your every day.
1. Don’t Worry About Being ‘Funny’
The comedian Paul Osincup, past president of the AATH, says you don’t have to be a comedian to laugh more. “Humor is not a talent, it’s a habit,” he says. He suggests not worrying so much about being clever or funny, but instead get in the habit of seeing the humor in everyday situations. For example, if you spill your coffee, laugh about it with whomever you’re with. Here are two lines Osincup loves to use: “Now that I have your attention …” or “It’s just half and half: Half on the table, half on my lap.”
“Everything in life can be drama, horror, or comedy. How often are you looking at it as a comedy?” he says. A good place to start: Laugh, laugh, laugh. If you find something funny, don’t hold back and simply smile to yourself, but push out an audible “Ha ha!” This might feel fake at first, but after a while, you’ll release and laugh naturally more often and louder than before, he says. “The more you play with humor, you’ll get better and better at it.”
2. Curate Your Comedy Collection
“Doomscrolling” — a trendy name for the tendency to consume endless negative news — may be a habit you’ve adopted, but you can change that habit. Instead, surround yourself with more humorous content.
Osincup suggests going on social media and following and liking as many pages as possible that make you laugh, “so humor will show up more often in your feeds.” You can also use the website and app Podchaser, where you can personalize your feed to watch for when your favorite funny people are guests on podcasts or release a new episode.
3. Take a Laugh Break
Set an alarm on your phone for a “fun break,” says Osincup. Earlier research found that a well-planned, 15-minute break for humor can bolster productivity, he says.
Start off with five minutes, Osincup recommends. Watch something funny (like a video on YouTube or quick clip of something from late-night TV) and then set a second alarm that cues you to go back to work.
4. Try the ‘3 Funny Things’ Exercise
You’ve heard of the power of a gratitude journal, in which you write down three (or more) good things that happened that day. A humor journal might be just as impactful. Osincup points to a study that found that people who, at the end of the day, reflected and wrote down three amusing things that happened in the day for one-week decreased depression symptoms and increased overall happiness for up to six months. “A humor journal trains you to see humor in real time,” he says.
5. Tap Laughter to Learn More
Humor can foster learning by building an emotional connection that strengthens memory, and therefore can help you understand and retain information. The stress hormone cortisol damages the area in the brain that plays a role in learning and memory (the hippocampus). But laughter — a powerful antidote to stress — helps repair that damage and makes it easier to form new memories, according to past research.
“Laughter is a language we all recognize, and we feel connected when we smile and laugh,” says the Michigan State University professor Stephen E. DiCarlo, PhD, who co-authored a review on why laughing helps when it comes to learning and health.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Lighten Up
“While I’m a serious person and take what I do seriously, I try not to take myself seriously. I think it’s critical to be able to laugh at yourself,” Ashton writes in her book. Laughing at yourself helps you put mistakes in perspective, deal with hardships, and move past misfortunes, she explains.
Teach yourself to do that with the “What I Should Have Said” game, suggests Osincup. When something happens that’s mildly stressful and you react by being short with someone or stressed out, reflect on how you could have handled that with more humor or lightheartedness. “This trains your brain to see the humor in difficult situations, and it teaches you to let go of some of your stress,” he says.
If laughing is challenging for you or you’re struggling with a more severe mood disorder or mental illness, it’s best to seek professional help from a therapist or your doctor.