The Healing Power of Humor

senior couple laughing at the camera

Humor can help build relationships, lower stress, and boost your immune system.

You know how you often feel better after a good laugh? It turns out there’s more to it than just the good humor. Science says laughter and humor can actually generate health and well-being. Scientists actually research the effect of laughter on different physiological responses, and here’s what they’ve found:

Humor may boost your immune system.

In a study of 52 healthy men, researchers found that laughing boosts disease-fighting white blood cells. The study subjects watched a humor video for one hour, and gave a series of blood samples before, during, and after watching. The results showed an increase in natural killer cells, lasting up to 12 hours. The study authors referred to this activity as “humor therapy,” suggesting that happy laughter plays a complementary role to medical treatments.

Laughter reduces stress and makes you feel better.

In a 2003 study, researchers monitored subjects’ brain activity while showing them cartoons. Some of the cartoons were changed to make them unfunny. The findings showed that the funniest cartoons triggered an endorphin response similar to the one drug users get from cocaine and other drugs. Laughing is a wholesome and healthy way to get a natural high. Laughter can also decrease stress-making hormones in the blood.

Another study found that participants who watched a funny movie reported less stress than those who watched a tourism video. Subjects who laughed the most also had higher immune function compared to the other participants.

Laughter can give you a good workout.

A recent study found that the effects of laughing are similar to aerobic exercise. Laughing raises your heart rate reduces your heart rate variability. The study found the greatest increase with fake laughter, but any strong laughter is good for your heart, which in turn is good for your body.

Humor plays a role in palliative care.

Palliative care focuses on relieving pain and making the patient as comfortable as possible. It’s used together with regular medical care as well as in hospice situations. A January 2018 review of 156 different studies concluded that humor is an important part of palliative care. Humor and laughter between patients, family, and staff can go a long way to relieve tension, promote the patient’s dignity, and build relationships.

Humor can help dementia patients.

Evidence shows that engaging with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, even when they can barely communicate, can help manage their agitation. Researchers in Sydney studied the effect of humor therapy in nursing homes. They brought in “ElderClowns,” who provided 9-12 weekly humor therapy sessions. The results showed that comedy significantly reduced agitation, as compared to the control group.

Science doesn’t fully understand laughter.

Modern science still doesn’t fully understand what triggers laughter and why humor has this effect. However, it’s clear that while laughter may not be the best medicine, it certainly is a very good one!