Sometimes, Laughter is The Best Medicine

Article by: Robert Dean

There used to be a concept within the scientific community that only humans could laugh. 

But guess what? It's not just us and the hyenas that are cackling; other animals laugh, too. 

According to an article published by UCLA, at least 65 species vocalize something relatable to a giggle, but here's the wild thing: none of them is the hyena. Lions, orcas, parrots, parakeets, and chimpanzees made the list of laughing animals, but again, The Lion King did us dirty; there is no guffawing Ned out there in the African plains. 

For us over on team Upright Ape with Anxiety, AKA humans, laughter is a critical part of our species. 

Photo by Lena Bauermeister on Unsplash

Laughter helps us cope; it directs how we play and how we share our joy with others. While it's rooted in the concept of a "play vocalization," laughter is a medicine that offers our true selves back in life's mirror. 

Laughter is a signal for de-escalation within our complex societal rules. Every kid at the lunch table knows a well-placed joke defuses a misunderstanding that could have resulted in a scrap.  

For generations, we've used laughter as a gauge to help us experience being human. Even the Bible has a riff on a good fart joke in the Old Testament, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine." 

That may not be a nod to a crass fart joke, but it's close enough. 

Being funny is its own sense of a healthy economy. 

Laughing feels good, but it's good for us on multiple levels, not just laughing at those olden-times fart jokes. 

Laughing is also a way to heal whatever's going on inside. We're complex people, and some of us process hurt or sadness with a bellow from somewhere that feels otherworldly. 

Ever met someone in the medical field? Those people have the darkest humor on the planet, and for good reason; if you can't have a sense of humor when you're around so much trauma, the job will eat you alive. Ask anyone who's ever worked in an ER a joke, and be prepared to give yourself the sign of the cross because those people are DARK.

Some hospitals are so bought into this concept that they have full-blown clowns on staff. Yes, there's a literal Bozo on staff to make patients laugh when dealing with significant ailments like cancer, which laughter is proven to help manage. 

Remember the Robin Williams movie Patch Adams? He’s a real guy. 

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs solicits daily humor into the lives of vets, asking how many times a day they get a good laugh and to be mindful of what makes them laugh. 

The Mayo Clinic, like the best hospital in the world, has even written about the health benefits of a hearty chuckle.

Laughter is also a salve for mental duress, helping us process the mysteries of what it's like to be human. Laughing about our problems helps put the concept of pain into perspective, which also helps us overcome fear. Being able to laugh at ourselves is a needed medicine that's impactful, which also roots our creativity. Let's be honest; no one likes to deal with anyone who's got a stick up their ass.

There's the cliché line that "laughter is the best medicine," and you know what? 

That adage isn't exactly incorrect. 

Image by Dulce Mac

In his book, "Anatomy of an Illness," Norman Cousins wrote about laughter, describing how he binge-watched Marx Brothers flicks and claimed that constant laughter helped him beat disease, resulting in him living well into his eighties. 

And ole' Norman was onto something; his research has pioneered a whole slew of others to follow in his footsteps to research the validity of how laughing at an hour of George Carlin can affect us down to the cellular level, from not only our hearts to other conditions, too.

According to medical research, the power of laughter helps our bodies in a myriad of ways:

  • Boosts the immune system by pumping the body full of T-cells, interferon, and immune proteins called globulins.

  • Is a pain reducer thanks to endorphins, and like sex, laughter releases cortisol that lowers stress levels. 

  • Laughter is good for the heart, and laughing also increases heart and respiratory rates and oxygen levels. 10 minutes of laughter equals burning 10-40 calories, and it always helps the blood flow, which dilates blood vessels and helps lessen the severity of strokes. 

  • Watching comedy decreases glucose levels after eating, which also helps to effectively delay type-2 diabetes

  • Laughter reduced lung hyperinflation in those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • Improv training led to improvements in symptoms for people with Parkinson's

  • Laughter decreased inflammation (pro-inflammatory cytokine levels) in those with rheumatoid arthritis.

These are just some of the health benefits of laughter. Yearly, more and more examples are shown as more nerds – we mean scientists – gather data.

Laughter is also a bonding mechanism that is critical for our work lives, and it's shown that people who share the same sense of humor relieve tension and draw people together. 

Sometimes, the job is a dumpster fire; the only way to endure is by laughing at how terrible everything is. If social media and its never-ending stream of memes tell us anything, there are many terrible jobs that result in hilarious memes. 

With laughing some intentionally, the health benefits speak for themselves; it's a matter of enhancing our longevity, and really, isn't howling at some dude getting kicked in the nuts on Instagram better than hitting the treadmill?

Go see some standup. It’s good for the heart and soul. We’ve got the hook up
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