Sages and physicians have for ages recognized the importance of laughter and humor in a person’s life and health. In as much as they lacked the necessary evidence to back up their beliefs and theories, they somehow knew that laughter benefitted human beings through various ways. There is a general feeling of relief that a person feels after experiencing laughter. The mere fact that a person experiences emotional joy and a sense of relief hint at the possibility of humor having a greater benefit to the human body. The enrichment and benefits that arise from a moment of laughter and humor form the basis of analysis in this paper. The physiology of humor and the mechanism of laughter are also looked at in the paper. From the information gathered, it is evident that humor and laughter have a direct correlation with an individual’s wellbeing and health. For that reason, it is advisable for people to engage in laughter and humor more often.
Human health has been described by many individuals as the greatest form of wealth. In the recent years, there has been an increased awareness about the importance of attaining and maintaining good health. Over the years, an increasing curiosity has been directed toward the health benefits that accrue from humor and laughter. Philosophers and physicians alike have made claims on the numerous benefits that laughter brings to a person’s health for centuries. In the recent years, the growing concern has been taken a notch higher with the inclusion of scientific research into the matter.
For example, in the year 1979, a publication by the Norman Cousin steeped the curiosity a notch higher as it documented an account of a treatment regime that had resulted in the recovery from ankylosing spondylitis. The self-prescribed treatment involved massive doses of vitamin C, but most importantly a daily dose of laughter. The research further increased the interest in the therapeutic elements of humor and laughter.
The focus of this paper is to analyze some of the benefits that accrue from humor and laughter. More importantly, it focuses on the positive health benefits that have been related to humor. By analyzing various materials and existing research, one can begin to understand the exact benefits that can be accrued from laughter.
The concept of humor can well be defined as the tendency of specific responses of cognition that provoke laughter, amusement, and reaction. Humor is not bound by age or culture; it is experienced by all individuals regardless of race, sex or religion. Social support and cohesion are an important aspect of human life.
The roaring sound of a person laughing has been described as something that is contagious; its contagiousness is a degree higher than that of a sneeze. Laughter seems to have a relieving factor on a human body that remains unanswered by science. The claims of humor being an important tool in physical health are linked to its use as a mode of physical exercise to the lungs, muscles and inner organs of the body.
The relief of mental pressure and distress has been deeply studied and analyzed, and conclusive information confirms it is a stress reliever. However, there is no conclusive information on its impact on the physical health. Humor can be defined as a degree of speech of writing that elicits amusement and excitement. However, looking at it from a psychological perspective, humor is multifaceted (Martin, 2002).
Humor can be looked at as a mental process arising from a specific stimulus. The behavioral expression of humor is laughter, which is inclusive of many vocal and respiratory patterns. The uniqueness of laughter and humor can be realized from the fact that it results in an enjoyable emotional state. According to Forabosco (1992), humor involves a perception of incongruity in a very playful context when looked at from a cognitive perspective.
The Mechanism of Laughter
A number of theories have been developed regarding the mechanisms through which humor and laughter are perceived to influence physical health. Up to four potential mechanisms can be used to describe the action of humor and laughter and its eventual impact on physical health. For the first mode of action, the changes the body are realized from the vigor of laughter.
The muscles become relaxed, and there is an enhanced and improved. It has also been noted that the degree of circulation of blood in the body dramatically increases during and after laughter. The production of endorphins has also been found to increase. The most important aspect of laughter as a stress reliever is the fact that the production of stress-related hormones declines during and after laughter (Fry, 1994). All the processes that accrue during and after laughter bring about a sense of improved physical health in the human body.
The second mode of action comes in the form of an emotional experience where the body realizes a positive state emotionally. The emotional well-being realized during and after the laughter has been found to increase the body’s tolerance to pain. The immunity of the body is also strengthened by the action of laughter. In relation to the strengthening of the immune system, laughter results in the secretion and circulation of catecholamine and cortisol in the body (Berk, 2001).
This enhances and improves a number of factors and elements within the immune system. Positive emotions in the body regardless of their mode of generation have been known to have an analgesic effect. Looking at the emotional pleasure and joy that arises from laughter, it becomes evident that there is an immune-enhancing effect that is associated with humor.
The fact that a person a gets a different feeling and pleasure from experiencing laughter points at the possibility of its benefits not only to the human body but also to the human health. Studying and analyzing the impact of humor posits a great potential in helping meet challenges regarding stress relief and physical health impairment.
The third mode of action of laughter and humor that influences the health of an individual is through its effect as a coping strategy. This effect is realized as an indirect health impact since laughter is known to minimize and mitigate against the adverse effects of stress. According to Martin (2002), humor is essential in helping a person build their level of social support. Many times, people get stressed because they do not have good social support systems. However, that can be alleviated by engaging in humor and laughter because an individual’s health can be improved by that.
The Physiology of Humor
According to Dr. William Fry from Stanford, a number of physiological processes occur during laughter. He asserts that laughter goes beyond the cardiovascular system and that a person laughs with their entire physical being. According to Fry (1994), humor in itself results in the production of physiological and psychological effects on a human body, which can be compared to effects of aerobic exercise. For a huge part, humor is considered as a biological and genetic characteristic of the human race.
The boosting of the immune system is based on the increase of the T cells within the body. The T cells are in charge of fighting foreign disease-causing organisms in the body. T cells are specialized cells for the function of boosting the immune system; all they do in the body is await for activation. Laughing is one of the modes that are used to activate the T cells in the body. This activation is essential in helping fight off sickness it the body (Berk, 2001).
Cardiovascular exercises are vital in helping the body, and most importantly the cardiovascular system. Laughter is one way of providing the body with a cardio workout. This is instrumental for individuals that are incapable of performing other physical activities due to injuries or illnesses. The action of blood being pumped into the body because of the laughter burns an equal amount of calories in an hour as that of a person walking a moderate pace.
The little-known fact of laughter is the general well-being that arises from a moment of genuine and deep laughter. A person’s outlook on life is immediately shifted to one of positivity from the moment he or she experiences a moment of laughter. Positive outlook of life is essential in fighting diseases and ending stress in a person’s life (Martin, 2007).
It is instrumental in allowing people work together but most importantly building their confidence. Laughing together is one of the ways of bonding and building the social network. In relation to the well-being of a person’s health, the feeling of being together in a social group helps in boosting the general outlook of life and happiness.
Having analyzed the various information and research that exists regarding the impact of humor on physical health, a number of conclusions and assertions can be made. For one, in as much as there exist numerous research regarding the benefits of laughter and humor on physical health. A lot of information remains inconclusive and unconvincing in relation to the exact impact of humor on physical health.
A lot of the existing information and data is based on theoretical assumptions that carry a minimal degree of validity. The impact of stress moderation as a result of humor and laughter also bears little evidence to its confirmation. It is, therefore, necessary for more research that is theory based to be conducted to allow for the attainment of firmer conclusions.
The advancement of technology in the twenty-first century in the medical field allows for in-depth analysis and evaluation of the effects of the humor and laughter on the human body. Brain scanning and Nanotechnology can be utilized in providing comprehensive deductions and valid information.
Berk, R. (2001). The active ingredients in humor: psycho physiological benefits and risks for older adults. Educational Gerontology, 27, 323-339.
Fry, W. (1994). The biology of humor. International Journal of Humor, 7, 111-126.
Martin, R. A. (2002). Is laughter the best medicine? Humor, laughter, and physical health. Current directions in psychological science, 11(6), 216-220.
Martin, R. A. (2007). The psychology of humor: An integrative approach. Burlington, MA: Elsevier Academic Press.
Raskin, V. (2008). The Primer of Humor Research: Read First!. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.