The Health Benefits of Humor and Laughter

humor and laughter

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

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A healthy sense of humor can help you deal with tough times. Humor might seem like a soothing balm or a light diversion. But humor is much more powerful than something that simply lulls us or calms us down.

In fact, it’s an often overlooked tool in our arsenal in the battle to maintain good health. During times when we are barraged with economic, social, political, and health problems, it’s wise to turn to a not-so-obvious way to protect ourselves. The myriad of health benefits of humor and laughter are wide-reaching.

During moments of levity, while it seems like you’re simply laughing at a friend’s joke or a comedian’s monologue, you’re actually improving your health. By tickling your funny bone, clinical evidence shows you are not only being entertained but enhancing your physical, psychological, and social well-being.

Doctors and mental health professionals cite plenty of research to remind us: Laughter contributes to positive health outcomes.

This article discusses some of the health benefits of laughter, both physical and psychological. It also covers the social benefits that laughter can bring. 

Physical Benefits

At its most basic level, laughter exercises your diaphragm. It enables you to take in more oxygenated air and stimulates your lungs. During those moments of raucous laughter, you are relieving physical tension in your muscles.

Laughter Can Boost Heart Health

While those muscles relax during what seems like a minor activity, medical professionals inform us that you improve your vascular functioning, too. As you laugh at hilarious events, your cardiac health improves. Laughter increases your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure.

Humor Brings Comfort and Eases Physical Pain

Robert Bonakdar, MD, FAAFP, FACN, director of pain management at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, lightens the mood when he greets patients. He says he likes to bring laughter into the treatment room whenever possible. He commonly uses an ice breaker to help to put patients at ease and hopefully bring a smile to their faces.

This approach is purposeful. He’s not only helping his patients feel more comfortable by bringing laughter into his practice, but he’s also contributing to lessening their perception of pain.

Robert Bonakdar MD, FAAFP, FACN

We know that laughter has been shown in studies to improve your pain threshold, likely due to an endorphin-mediated opiate effect. What is interesting is that this appears to be independent of your mood, meaning that it can have a positive effect even when you are down.

— Robert Bonakdar MD, FAAFP, FACN

Let’s say you have a migraine, but you’re watching a hysterically funny Netflix show. As you watch and laugh, you may become at least somewhat distracted from the migraine pain and discomfort. But the distraction alone isn’t what reduces your pain perception.

Proven processes are working behind the scenes in your body to increase your pain tolerance. Endorphins, for example, get to work. Because you’re laughing up a storm, your body produces these natural painkillers.

Laughter Can Improve Sleep and Boost Immunity

Psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD, says that laughing heartily and a lot offers another physical benefit: Research shows it can improve sleep quality as well.

Overall, extensive laughter supports the immune system, which makes you more resistant to disease. By laughing, you are increasing antibody-producing cells and enhancing the effectiveness of T cells in your body. These cells act like a defense army to combat illness.

Recap

Physical benefits of laughter can include improving your heart health, boosting your pain tolerance, boosting your immunity, and improving your sleep.

Psychological Benefits

Humor can alleviate the stress and anxiety we deal with during a variety of difficult and challenging times.

Laughing Reduces Stress

Clinical evidence shows that humor reduces stress hormones. Cortisol is a major stress hormone that circulates throughout your body when you’re stressed out. Decreasing levels of cortisol is important because high levels of cortisol tax your immune system.

When you’re preoccupied with something funny, you can’t simultaneously focus on the negativity. Humorous interludes can give you a break from worrying. That space, that place where you can let your hair down and breathe, in and of itself is beneficial.

Humor can provide healthy perspective. Maybe after laughing, you discover a new angle on the problem. Perhaps you realize that you’ve gotten through other difficult periods and are reassured. With a new perspective, you might view threats such as challenges and problems as opportunities.

Or you might intentionally find the funny aspects of your stressful problem. If you’re embarrassed about something or need to forgive yourself for a mistake you made, you can use humor and laughter as a coping mechanism.

Humor Improves Memory

Another benefit of using humor that might surprise you relates to the brain as well. Using humor improves memory retention. When relevant humor is paired with a fact, you'll have better recollection of that fact.

In a study focused on humor's relationship to politics and news, researchers found that the information had a higher chance of being both remembered and shared if the content made the participant laugh.

Social Benefits

It’s more than OK to laugh together at things that are amusing, ludicrous, or absurd. Relationships benefit when you connect with others through humor.

Laughter Brings People Together

A shared laugh creates bonds between people. Most of us remember a time when laughter became contagious and spread fast from two people through a group. People usually feel closer after laughing together, too.

Laughter Adds Positivity to Conversations

Humor has another worthwhile social benefit: It creates more positive communications between people. Just by sharing a meme or telling a joke, the other person is more predisposed to want to talk to you. Using humor, especially during tricky conversations or disagreements, can pave the way for a better discussion. It diffuses tension and relaxes the other person.

Sharing funny stories will not only cheer up your friend, relative, or co-worker but will add to their well-being. They will likely walk away in a better mood and happier than before, too.

It all comes down to engaging with people in a human way. To laugh at one of your own traits or poke fun at yourself about a mistake you made requires a shared understanding of humanity.

Bianca L. Rodriguez, LMFT

There is something sacred about humor. If you can laugh at yourself, then you can forgive yourself. And if you can forgive yourself, you can forgive others.

— Bianca L. Rodriguez, LMFT

Humor Helps You Understand Yourself and Others

Therapist Bianca L. Rodriguez, LMFT, underscores how the benefits of humor go beyond the physical, psychological, and social realms. It connects with our understanding of ourselves and others. She says, “Humor is imperative to empathy and compassion, and forgiveness is a tenet of every spiritual tradition for this reason.”

Therefore, turn to whatever makes you laugh, especially during trying times. Those viral TikTok videos and funny memes are not momentary pleasures. They help us cope with anxiety, fear, and grief. At the same time, you’ll also be activating a host of health-related benefits for yourself and others.

Recap

Psychological benefits of laughter and humor including reducing stress, boosting memory, and improving your social relationships.

A Word From Verywell

Laughter is more than just something that feels good in the moment, it can have real benefits for your physical, psychological, and social well-being. You can bring more humor into your life by looking for opportunities to laugh. Seek out things that bring joy and laughter to your life, whether it is your favorite sitcom or a silly TikTok.

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8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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