Written by: Amy McKenzie Smith
There is literally nothing better than full-on laughing with someone. When you both continue to add things that make the heart of the joke even funnier, reaching a point where you can both barely breathe. It’s hard to pin down exactly why laughing until it hurts but feels so good and why laughter generally induces warm fuzzy feelings. Laughter really is funny- it’s weird that we do it a lot; one study found that people laugh 7 times every 10 minutes of conversation and 80% of our laughter occurs during everyday comments in social situations.
We can make some very bizarre noises when we laugh, from squeaks to gasps to snorts to wheezes. Laughter is a non-verbal emotional expression and when you think about it, it really is quite strange that hearing a joke or being tickled can fully rob you of your entire ability to speak, left simply with uncontrollable giggles and maybe even tears. All members of the human species understand it and unlike French, Latin or Korean, we don’t have to learn to speak it. Babies tend to start to laugh at about 4 months of age and babies who are born blind and deaf can laugh too, so the ability to see or hear is not required for laughter. We are all born with the capacity to laugh, but what is it that makes laughter so fascinating?
One of the remarkable things about laughter is that it occurs unconsciously- it is not something you decide to do. While we can consciously inhibit it, we don’t consciously produce laughter which is why it’s very hard to laugh on command or to fake it. (Don’t take my word for it, ask a friend to laugh on the spot). Laughter provides powerful, uncensored insights into our unconscious by simply bubbling up from within us. It comes in many forms; chuckles, giggles, belly laughs, cackles, sniggers- a ha-ha-ha or a ho-ho-ho. It might be a very private thing: an inward giggle you keep to yourself or a tender smile towards a cute animal or a baby. Laughter might be polite or nervous: tenderly laughing at a terrible joke just to make your friend feel a little better, or your underlying anxiety forcing you to subconsciously nervous laugh before an exam. However, laughter can be more generally regarded as an audible expression or appearance of excitement, representing an inward feeling of joy and happiness.
Laughter can be perceived as something of a social emotion that we use to make and maintain strong social bonds with those around us. Firstly, I curiously question- can you really laugh someone into bed? It’s an interesting one… One study found that both men and women specified a sense of humour as a more desirable quality in a partner than intelligence, education, profession and sexual drive. Another found that we rate strangers as more attractive if they laugh at our jokes. It’s no surprise then that couples who laugh together report having higher-quality relationships (#wholesome). Laughter is a non-negotiable for all involved. Sharing a good old laugh can immediately strengthen the social bond between two people. Playful communications strengthen our relationships by creating emotional connections and infusing all-round positive vibes into a room, whilst working with the ability to act as a powerful way to heal disagreements and tension. And thus, laughter works to bring people together- wholesome stuff, right?
So, is laughter actually contagious? Studies have shown that it could be; people are more likely to laugh in response to a video clip with ‘canned laughter’ (recorded audience laughter in TV sitcoms for example) than to one without a laugh track. People are 30 times more likely to laugh in the presence of others than alone, leading us to the idea that laughter can act as a form of communication, as well a reaction that we use to show people that we like and understand them. It’s like endorphin dominoes; each brain in a social unit is a transmitter of positive feelings, which triggers the feel-goods in other brains via laughter. We’ve all been in a situation where laughter can completely alter the mood of a room, proving that there is nothing better to bring your mind and body into balance than a good laugh.
Laughter can not only improve and build relationships and friendships, it can in fact improve both your physical and mental health. Interestingly, laughing activates the release of the neurotransmitter ‘serotonin’, the same brain chemical affected by the most common types of antidepressants. Thus, laughter is able to relieve stress and physical tension. There is also research to suggest laughter might improve your physical health with the potential to boost the number of antibody-producing cells, strengthen the immune system and even lower your chances of a heart attack by protecting blood vessels and heart muscles. Incredible stuff there. Hearty laughing sessions should probably be part of every heart disease prevention program.
The universe would be ne’er the same without laughter; it is a mechanism everyone has and is part of universal human vocabulary. Laughing makes up so much of our joys and some of the happy memories we remember and treasure are often minutes of hearty laughter. Sometimes, life might encourage us to take things way too seriously, running and working through our lives in such a speed that we have no time to laugh and in turn, relax. Laughter really is a joyful thing which might just fill your day with a new kind of amazing energy. Having a good sense of humour is also a wonderful (and desirable 😉 ) trait which can help both you and the others around you deal with negative stress and allow you both to enjoy each other’s company. So why not try and spend more time with happy people, watch some of your favourite comedy or even try some ‘laughter yoga’ on YouTube (seriously, it’s something else). Be playful and laugh as much as you can, because countless researchers and scientists also back the idea that laughter really is the best medicine.