Breaking news: Laughing makes you feel good. OK, maybe this isn’t so surprising. But try to think about the last time you really laughed—chances are, it may have been some time ago. Preoccupied with all of our grownup responsibilities, we adults just don’t giggle as often as we did when we were kids.
We should, though! Laughing has been shown to reduce stress, enhance immunity, improve blood flow and strengthen relationships. Whether you laugh at Amy Schumer’s stand-up, knock-knock jokes, Modern Family or your spouse’s newscaster imitation, here’s how and why you should do more of it:
1. Don’t feel good? Stay home and watch Zoolander.
Rx Laughter, a nonprofit organization, partnered with the University of California, Los Angeles Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center to study the pain-alleviating effects of humor among the center’s pediatric patients. The researchers found that the 7- to 16-year-olds tolerated pain better while viewing humorous videos. And it didn’t matter whether the kids laughed out loud or even smiled—simply thinking the video was funny distracted them from the discomfort of the procedure.
Other studies have shown that laughing lowers stress hormones and elevates feel-good hormones.
2. Can’t laugh at work? Look forward to it later.
It’s not just guffawing at 80 decibels that releases endorphins. Even the expectation of laughter can trigger the same physiological response. In one 2006 study, men who were told they were going to view a funny movie had significantly higher levels of these hormones than a control group. These happy readings continued during and after the funny film, but what’s significant is that the anticipation of laughter was enough to get the body “good-mood ready.” So next time you’re stuck in a stressful meeting, think about the comedy show you’ll be checking out over the weekend.
3. Not amused? Laugh anyway.
According to the decades-old theory of “facial feedback,” your facial expressions signal to your brain that you are feeling a certain way. That’s why studies have shown that people who undergo Botox injections in their faces have fewer emotional responses (neurologically) to happy and sad stimuli. When facial muscles are partially frozen, people find it harder to express their feelings. And harder, it turns out, to actually feel. So even if you’re not particularly tickled by someone’s joke, let yourself chuckle anyway.
4. Haven’t laughed in a while? Play-wrestle with your kids.
“Laughter is the sound of play, and play is good,” says Robert Provine, Ph.D., a psychology professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. He explains that, in fact, laughter evolved from the heavy panting of chimps engaged in rough-and-tumble play. And laughter is social. “We laugh 30 times more often when we are with other people as opposed to by ourselves. Laughter is a way of bonding, and it is contagious.”
Social engagement and support have repeatedly been shown to be a crucial component of a happy, satisfied life. What better way to bond with others than to share a laugh?
This article appears in the May 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.