What were the last jokes that made you roll around on the floor because you were laughing so hard? Did it involve a doctor, a priest, and a lawyer? Was it on a TV show, or part of a stand-up comedy routine, or part of a recent lecture? In any event, do you remember how it made you feel?
More likely than not you can remember the last time, and if you took a minute you could probably tell me the jokes, and it probably made your day. It either gave you relief from the stress of taking your self or what you were doing so seriously, or it took your mind off of something that was causing you grief, or it just livened up an otherwise boring talk. Probably most importantly though, it allowed you to laugh which as we all know is “the world’s best medicine.”
But have you ever thought more about why this was so? Is there actually something about jokes and the resulting laughter that can change our health in a beneficial way? What is it about laughter that we love so much? Why are comedies so popular? Why is there such a thing as comic relief and why is it so effective–even in the most serious of plays or dramas? Well you shouldn’t be surprised to find out that scientists have been studying it but you may be surprised to find out that there is actually something about laughter that affects us more profoundly than we think.
Basically there is good evidence now that laughter produced by jokes can change the chemical milieu that courses through our body on a second to second basis, and in profound degree. Laughter releases natural endorphins that act on the same receptors as morphine that produce the feelings of relaxation and heightened mood. Levels of Dopamine, serotonin, and Nor- epinephrine are altered as well that produce endogenous anti- depressant effect.
Researchers then wondered about what action in particular was producing these changes–was it smiling, or the physical changes that take place in rate of breathing, in blood pressure, increased heart rate, etc. What they found was (as usual) that it most likely was a combination of physical changes in the body that occur with laughter. Each one of these changes by it self produced small effects but together were synergistic in producing these stress relieving, and mood improving results. It was interesting to note that spontaneous laughter was better than self produced laughs but not by as large a difference than you might think. Also merely smiling produced significant changes in the blood chemistry. So basically tell someone jokes, smile more, and laugh even if you have to fake it–it does the body good!