Laughter as medicine: Fact or fiction?
“Laughter is an instant vacation.” —Milton Berle
One of the most common pieces of folk wisdom is that “laughter is the best medicine.” How true is this idea? Laughter doesn’t have magical properties. It won’t prevent the flu like a vaccine will, and it won’t reset a broken leg. But it can be an important part of mental health self-care.
- Did you know that laughter could reduce pain and discomfort? (1) Humor reduces pain beyond simple distraction. Laughter reduces pain just as well as relaxation techniques (though they work too). The next time you are in pain or discomfort, find something that tickles your funny bone. It will likely help you feel better and lift your mood.
- Did you know that laughter reduces anxiety? (2) If you are dreading something, get to work at finding something funny. Again, the humor reduces anxiety beyond simple distraction. It isn’t just getting your mind off of things. It’s the laughter.
- Having a good sense of humor can lead to more social contact and social support. Both can be a powerful buffer against stress and increase resiliency. (3)
- It’s unclear if humor or laughter increases immunity. Research has shown mixed results. In the studies that show increased immunity, it is unclear if it is the humorous outlook or actual laughter that helps. (4) So the jury is still out.
- Humor and laughter have not been clinically shown to help long-term blood pressure or overall longevity. (5)
So it seems that laughter and humor help but don’t exactly seem like a miracle cure.
So why might you pursue humor and laughter, outside of the utility it might have toward better health?
- Because it’s enjoyable!
- It lifts your mood!
- It brings people closer!
- It feels good!
Maybe humor doesn’t help you live longer. Maybe it only helps you live better. Humor and laughter don’t need to serve any other purpose. They are ends in themselves.
So get to work. Start pranking friends. Share funny pictures. Call up funny movies to watch. Listen to your favorite comedians. Make humor a bigger part of your life, and start living better.
- “Effects of Laughter and Relaxation on Discomfort Thresholds,” Journal of Behavioral Methods, 10, #2, 1987.
- “Benefits of Humor in Reduction of Threat-induced Anxiety,” Psychological Reports, 66, 1990.
- “Stress, Social Support, and the Buffering Hypothesis,” Psychological Bulletin, 98, 1985.
- “Sense of Humor, Hassles, and Immunoglobulin A: Evidence for a Stress Moderating Effect of Humor,” International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 18, 1988.
- “Is Laughter the Best Medicine? Humor, Laughter, and Physical Health.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11, #6, 2002.