Laughter is the best medicine. Or so they say.
But have you ever wondered what that phrase actually means? Surely, laughter can’t treat the body like penicillin can.
(I know where you think this is going. And no, this is not that kind of article).
But plenty of studies have shown how a sense of humor impacts the brain and the body. And research in this area, of course, is continuously ongoing.
But don’t think that laughter doesn’t have its benefits. Both related to one’s psychology and neuroscience.
Interested in learning more? Well, read on.
The brain on laughter
Did you know that the physiological study of laughter has its own name? Yeah. It’s called gelotology.
Over the years, the science of gelotology has managed to pinpoint what regions of the brain are activated when laughing. That’s right, regions.
Not just one. After all, everything in the brain is connected and related to one another.
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The frontal lobe is the brain’s largest region. And it is involved in producing and understanding social and emotional responses.
According to university researchers, the frontal lobe is the first region of the brain to jump into action when processing humorous content. So, in a way, the frontal lobe serves as the gatekeeper of a sense of humor.
It determines whether we will get the joke or not. Then, it passes that information along to other related social areas of the brain.
Kind of like a cognitive game of telephone. (This game, you can definitely try at home).
Left side and right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex
You’ve probably associated the right and left brain as, well, polar opposites of one another. And they are in certain respects.
But jokes manage to activate both sides. The left side analyzes the words and structure of the joke.
And the right hemisphere determines whether you “get” it. “Who knew humor had so many parts?” said the school instructor to the professional corporate comedian they doubted as a student.
Not that we hold a grudge. (We’re looking at you, [insert redacted teacher’s name here].)
The occipital lobe resides in the back of the human head. And it helps us process visual signals.
Part of what makes jokes funny often has to do with body language. So even if it’s a play on words, this region of the brain will continue the cognitive process required to understand humor.
Lastly, laughter stimulates the motor sections of the human brain. Whether it’s uttering a laugh or slapping your knee, the brain will find any way to express the emotional release of a funny joke.
And let’s be honest. Sometimes, the best party of making somebody giggle is their physical reaction.
Laughter and brain health
Bet you’re feeling like an expert with all this newfound knowledge on humor and the brain’s cognitive response to it. But want to feel even smarter?
That’s right. Keep reading, scholar!
Sure, laughter can lighten some dark events that might be occurring in your life. But what, specifically, does it do to your body?
Stimulates the organs
When you laugh, your whole body gets involved. Your oxygen intake increases as endorphins go high.
Not to mention you’re also working out your heart, lungs, and muscles. And before you ask, yes, the question has already been raised about whether cackling can replace your workout routine.
And no, it can’t replace it entirely. (Sorry to disappoint).
But many a professor have also linked humor as a positive agent against mood disorders. So, like exercise, humor provide some relief from any negative thoughts or feelings you might be experiencing.
Activates and relieves stress response
There’s a kind of high yet relaxing feel that you get after engaging with a funny joke. And that’s because humor both fires up and cools down your stress response.
Research has shown that a laugh can increase heart rate and blood pressure. Then decreases it, giving you that nice, lovely feeling at the end.
Not to mention that less stress can actually positively impact your efficiency! So consider humor your workplace superpower and key to productivity.
So before you start huffing glue or something weird like that, try chuckling with a friend. Maybe even invest in an entertainer who can come to the corporate office and lighten the mood with your coworkers.
You’ll probably also feel better when sharing a funny moment with others. You know. Social creatures and all.
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The way your body processes humor also increases circulation and aids in muscle relaxation. And let’s be real, the physical symptoms of stress can feel enormous.
Like that weight that bears down on your chest? Or that feeling like you can’t breathe or might pass out?
So give a little chuckle. I know, it sounds silly. But just try it.
See if you can feel not just a boost in your psychology. But in your physicality as well. Because anything’s better than feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders.
From what this article has gone over, you might be thinking that humor only offers temporary relief. Like a typical comedian’s hour-long set – even with clean material.
But what if we told you that research also purports long-term benefits too? I can feel you leaning in for more. So don’t try to downplay it!
Improves immune system
This may be news to you, but negativity isn’t so great for your body. No, really, negativity can manifest into chemical reactions and decrease your immunity to disease and other illnesses.
But general positivity can release what’s called neuropeptides which help to fight stress and prevent your risk of illness. Just ask psychology candidate Alex Borgella from Tufts University.
You know how some people laugh when they’re in pain? Well, if you do, just know that they’re not crazy.
Humor can actually ease pain in the body. So these natural processes can easily be taken over some over-the-counter or even prescription painkillers.
Increases personal satisfaction
Life is full of difficulties. We don’t even need to provide an example.
But humor can help us cope with those difficulties. Not to mention laughter’s social benefits that can connect us with others.
As you’ve already seen in this article, there’s plenty of research on how humor can lessen stress. But it can also improve your self-esteem.
Those who suffer from depression and anxiety can benefit from a good chuckle. Not only because of the brain processes it sets into motion.
But because humor, in general, can make you feel better. Sometimes, it really is that simple.
Just think positively
Humor and the brain have a funny relationship. Where some cognitive responses only trigger a single area of the brain, humor triggers many.
You might be able to chalk it up to humor being infectious. Or, you might be able to argue that humor is far more intellectual than we think.
Either way, it’s clear to see that humor does the brain a whole lot of good. So why not make it a part of your everyday?
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Adam Christing is a professional comedy magician, virtual MC, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular corporate entertainer, magician, and virtual speaker.