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This is Your Brain on Laughter

Seriously, research suggests that a good laugh can boost memory, lower stress, protect against heart disease and even burn calories. The latest news on the health benefits of laughter comes from a small study at California’s Loma Linda University, where researchers investigated the effects of humor on 20 seniors. First, they tested short-term recall among all the participants and took saliva samples from them to measure levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They then showed comic videos to half the participants while the others were asked to sit silently elsewhere without talking, reading or using their cell phones. After 20 minutes, the researchers again tested short-term recall in all the participants and took new saliva samples. They found that recall among those who watched the videos increased by 43.6 percent compared to 20.3 percent in the other group and that cortisol levels in the video-watching group were significantly lower than they were in the others. The researchers noted that studies elsewhere have demonstrated that a sense of humor helps protect against heart disease and that 10 to 15 minutes of laughter daily burns up to 40 calories.

My take? Laughter is infectious. When we see or hear people laugh, we tend to laugh ourselves, which makes them laugh more, and so on. This means that a group of people laughing constitutes a powerful collection of internal and external feedback loops of positive emotion. If you want to be happy, put yourself in joyful situations as often as you can. Or consider laughter yoga. According to the official Laughter Yoga website, there are more than 6,000 "social laughter clubs" in 60 countries. Studies have shown that laughter can influence health by easing pain, reducing stress and even helping protect against heart disease. Researchers in Japan have shown that participating in laughter yoga can help lower blood pressure among adults ages 40 to 74, and are now investigating whether the positive changes are long-lasting.

Sources:
G.S. Bains et al “The Effect of Humor on Short-term Memory in Older Adults: A New Component for Whole-Person Wellness,” Advances in Mind Body Medicine, Spring 2014, 28(2):16-24