Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. is a licensed Psychologist in the state of Ohio (License #6083). She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from
Let’s conduct a very small psychological study. First, rate your mood according to the following scale:
Now, rate your mood again.
Psychological research suggests that there is a relationship between laughter and well-being. Assuming that you find the sight and sound of a baby laughing funny, your mood score likely improved, or at the very least, did not get worse. Why?
Humorous stimuli cause laughter, and laughter causes physiological changes (in our bodies) that can affect well-being. Laughter temporarily increases heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, immune system activity, and alertness while exercising the skeletal muscles. After you stop laughing, your blood pressure, heart rate, muscle activity, and rate of breathing temporarily slows down, resulting in a sense of relaxation.
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In addition, to physiological changes, laughter can cause psychological changes. Laughter provides tension release, cognitive stimulation and distraction from anxiety, worry, and/or pain. Laughing in response to humorous stimuli may help our brains get better at filtering out sad or depressing information, and filtering in other information that is funny. Laughing may also put us in a frame of mind to interpret our situations and ourselves more positively. This re-interpretation can then lead to a increased sense of control and coping, and can help us remain in or deal better with stressful situations. We may also feel better simply from knowing and believing that laughter and humor are beneficial.
Laughter can have positive long-term effects such as enhanced mood, increased cardiovascular health, increased pain tolerance, reduced blood sugar levels (increasing glucose tolerance in diabetics and nondiabetics alike), improved job performance (especially if your work depends on creativity and solving complex problems), and enhanced interpersonal relationships. However, this ability to shape well-being is influenced by individual characteristics such as having a sense of humor (ability to find things funny); our skill in adapting the filtering style described above; and our personalities. The environment (how stressful, what type of stress), and the stimulus itself (what type of humor, how easy it is to understand, whether we think it is funny) are also important.
The take home message? Try to laugh a few times each day. Read or watch something funny and try to take yourself and your situation less seriously. Watch the baby video clip again.
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