No one knows for certain why we laugh. Despite decades of research, scientists and doctors have yet to identify a convincing physiological reason. Philosophers and psychologists, too, have struggled to come up with a social rationale that sticks. (The best guess: Well, it’s fun!)
What we do know, however, is that, mid-laughter, the human body undergoes some serious transformation. Whether you’re looking to palpably slash your blood pressure, fortify your immune system, or even melt away some pesky calories, your best bet is to head to the nearest comedy club, stat. In other words, yes, we’re saying that laughter, as the adage goes, truly is the best medicine. Here’s why. And if you need some medicine of the sort, start with the 70 Jokes So Corny They’ll Leave You in Stitches.
You burn calories.
No, you shouldn’t expect to get six-pack abs from watching a few stand-up specials, but that doesn’t mean laughter won’t give you a workout. Laughter uses enough energy in your body to make a small dent in your daily calories. One study out of Vanderbilt University revealed that laughing for just 15 minutes a day can burn up to 40 calories. That only covers about half of a fun size candy bar—no joke. And for more ways your body can change, check out these 20 Ways Our Bodies Will Be Different In 100 Years.
Your brain kicks into high gear.
Laughter can send a wave of electricity that sweeps the entire cerebral cortex (but, sadly, not in a Limitless- or Lucy-like way). While one side of the brain is processing the language of the joke, the rest is busy making sense of the absurdity of the context. Understanding the intricacies of cold fusion might grant a little to boost your IQ, but learning why the chicken crossed the road just might be the real secret to becoming a genius.
Great comedy can bring you to tears. Crying while laughing may be from reaching a heightened emotional state from a long bout of laughter, or it could be a physical reflex from the shaking and contracting of muscles that happens when you laugh. Either way, it’s a better release than watching the end of a sad movie. And for more funny ways we express ourselves, check out these 50 Hilarious Things Everyone Does.
You get an endorphin boost.
Laughter has the power to brighten anyone’s mood, and the reason is purely chemical. The physical act of laughing releases endorphins in the brain, causing a feeling of happiness. Laughter can be addictive, but there’s no reason to stop.
You lose control of your body.
If you’ve ever been a victim of the infamous “tickle monster,” then you know how laughter can make your muscles too weak to fight. The H-reflex, a neurological pathway that causes muscle contractions, can disappear when laughing out loud, making muscles feel weak and limp. And for more on how your body reacts without your control, learn the 30 Ways Your Body Tricks You All the Time.
Muscles weakening, endorphins pumping—either you’ve run a marathon or you’ve been watching people face-plant on YouTube. The relaxed feeling you get after a fit of laughter is similar to the one you get after a workout. Better yet, this feeling can last for up to an hour.
Your immune system gets a boost.
Don’t rely on that apple—a sitcom a day really keeps the doctor away. You can take vitamin C and drink tea all flu season long, but if you want to really boost your immune system, try laughing more, too. Laughing increases your body’s production of antibodies and T-cells that fight off disease and boost your immune system. And if you need some material to laugh at, check out the 40 Dumb Wordplay Jokes That Will Crack You Up.
Your pain tolerance jumps.
Anyone who has been to an open mic knows that comedy can be painful. But experiments have shown that subjects watching comedy tend to have a higher threshold to pain. This increase in tolerance is attributed to the release of endorphins, something that will come in handy—in more ways than one—when your friend invites you to the Chuckle Hut to see their “tight five.”
You fight-or-flight response is diminished.
The evolutionary reasoning behind laughter has many scientists and philosophers guessing, but anthropologist Mahadev Apte views it as a social signal that developed over time. Laughing together in groups can make us feel more comfortable and less worried about immediate danger. As our prehistoric ancestors (likely) said, “You ever hear the one about the woolly mammoth?”
Your stress levels plummet.
Laughing is an easy way to destress, and it’s a lot cheaper than a hot tub or private masseuse. According to research out of the University of Waterloo, people with a strong sense of humor become less depressed and anxious than those with a less developed sense of humor. Why stress out when you can laugh about it?
Your throat closes up.
Laughing fits can have you gasping for air. That’s because the respiratory system responds to laughter by the epiglottis half-closing the larynx, causing air intake to occur irregularly. The struggle for oxygen is the same reason your face goes red and why your one friend always snorts like a pig.
You reinforce relationships.
Laughing in a crowd has a very different effect on you than laughing alone. Studies show that laughing in a group forms strong social bonds between humans. The contagious nature of laughter can also heighten the level of endorphins being released, promoting feelings of greater safety and togetherness.
You’re more likely to get pregnant.
It seems like everyone with a dating profile is looking for someone “with a sense of humor,” but they might be getting more than they’ve bargained for. A medical trial of women undergoing IVF found that a visit from a “medical clown” immediately after the embryos were placed in the womb increased the chance of pregnancy.
Your baby feels it.
At 32 weeks of gestation, a fetus is behaving similarly to a newborn, so pregnant mothers already have good company when they’re catching up on Friends reruns on the couch. Fetuses can feel the emotional impact of laughter, but it’s the physical bobbing up and down that gets the baby bouncing inside the womb. One “how you doin’?” from Joey is the equivalent of a roller coaster loop for your baby.
You can hurt yourself.
Like a roller coaster, laughter can make you smile, feel euphoric, and cause irreparable harm if you have preexisting medical problems. Those most at risk are people with hernias and heart problems, as laughing can cause blood pressure changes and ruptures in places you do not want to rupture. More often, the shock of laughter causes people to faint, but in the worst-case scenarios, it could be the last joke they’ll ever hear.
Your blood pressure plummets.
While laughing has its dangers, there are far more benefits to be found. Laughter lowers your blood pressure, and researchers have linked laughter to the healthy function of blood vessels, which can lower your risk of heart attack. It’s a simple way to live longer and actually enjoy the time you have.
You find more things funny.
Brain scans reveal that even hearing laughter triggers our facial muscles to prepare to join in. And once you get going, it can be difficult to stop. This contagious response may actually be helping us to understand why we laugh when we laugh.
You become impervious to embarrassment.
The same way humor is used to calm people down, it’s also a way to deflect an embarrassing moment or defuse tensions. We’re predisposed to like funny people more because we can feel safe with them. Whatever the evolutionary reasoning, laughter is a clear signal that things aren’t as bad as they seem.
Your face distorts.
Fifteen muscles in your face contract during laughter, including the stimulation of the zygomatic major muscle (that’s the one that lifts your upper lip). This physical response is known to make wedding pictures look a lot more fun.
You wet yourself.
To walk out on a show is an insult to a comedian, but to run to the bathroom to keep from wetting yourself is the greatest compliment they can receive. The unexpected contracting of muscles around the abdomen can force liquids out whether you’re ready or not. Many comedy clubs require a two-drink minimum, so try to take small sips.
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