Research on the influence of emotions on various pathologies dates back to ancient Greece, where it was already established that there was a relationship between mind and body. Since then, research has continued on how certain emotions, such as anger, can affect psychophysiological disorders, such as heart disorders. Although more studies are focused on the effects of negative emotions on health and illness, we know that there are many benefits of laughter.
Laughter causes the activation of specific brain areas, causing us to feel better, see problems less serious, and feel less stressed, happier, and more energetic. Freud, the father of Psychoanalysis, has already mentioned that “letting out a laugh” is a mechanism used by our body to release tension and anguish.
Psychological Benefits of Laughter
- It reduces stress and anxiety, when we laugh, we secrete a hormone called “endorphin,” associated with the feeling of happiness. The more we laugh, the more endorphin we generate, thereby increasing the feeling of well-being. In addition, when we laugh, we also secrete dopamine and serotonin, substances that fight mood disorders such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Laughter also reduces the level of cortisol associated with stress and regulates adrenaline levels, a hormone that helps our body cope with alarm and anxiety situations.
- It produces resilience, which is the innate or developed capacity that allows you to overcome negative situations and emerge stronger. Developing the ability to laugh at ourselves or problems can help to relativize our difficulties.
- It improves memory, as laughter oxygenates the brain and relaxes the mind. When we laugh, twice as much air enters our lungs, oxygenating our entire body.
- It favors creative thinking and imagination, closely associated with good humor. This, in turn, allows us to find solutions to our problems; laughter and humor enhance our creativity.
- Self-esteem increases, we feel better, we value ourselves more.
- It improves our social relationships since it activates the cortical areas in charge of social relationships. When we are “laughing” with other people, interpersonal relationships improve, strengthening emotional ties.
- It enhances empathy and reciprocity since it activates mirror neurons that allow imitation and putting ourselves in the place of the other.
- It favors forgiveness. By improving interpersonal relationships and empathizing more, we are more willing to forgive.
Physical Benefits of Laughter
- Rejuvenating the skin, laughter has a toning and anti-wrinkle effect. When we laugh, the heart pumps faster and more air enters the lungs, improves circulation and oxygenation, and eliminates toxins.
- Increase in endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline, improving our physical well-being. Endorphins even affect pain receptors in the brain and act as natural pain relievers.
- Decrease in levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
- Head vibration causing the nose and ear to clear.
- The relaxing effects of laughter allow you to sleep better, reducing insomnia.
- Reduction of blood pressure and improvement of our respiratory capacity. This, prevents heart attacks and allows a good oxygenation of our organs, since, when we laugh out loud, we take in twice as much air as in normal breathing.
- Strengthening the immune system, laughter generates more antibodies that fight against viruses and bacteria, strengthening our body.
- Activation of mirror neurons, responsible for the imitation of behaviors, which makes laughter contagious.
- Improved digestion and elimination of fat and waste, as laughter contracts the abdomen and improves the digestive process.
- Relaxation of muscle tension and strengthening and toning of muscles that are rarely used when we laugh out loud, more than 400 muscles are activated!
- Increased life expectancy, as a consequence of all the benefits mentioned above.
Types of Laughter
- Spontaneous or genuine laughter: It arises naturally from the expression of positive emotions or by contagion through mirror neurons’ action.
- Rehearsed or unconditional laughter: It occurs intentionally and does not require any external stimulus to produce it. It is not associated with thoughts or emotions; that is, it is not associated with humor.
- Stimulated laughter: It is a consequence of the physical or reflex action of some external stimuli on the facial muscles or other body points with neurological sensitivity that triggers laughter, for example, tickling.
- Induced laughter: It is generated as the primary or secondary product of the intake of drugs or drugs. It is hollow and shallow.
- Pathological laughter: There is a lack of control over its expression, duration, or intensity; it is not associated with specific stimuli, nor is it produced by emotional changes. It is a consequence of lesions in the central nervous system due to neurological diseases or because it is present in certain mental disorders.
For laughter to generate physical and psychological benefits, it has to be spontaneous and authentic.It is what is known as the Duchenne Smile, which is the product of an impulse that responds to processes in the limbic system, the area of the brain where emotions are processed. However, a false, forced, or voluntary smile originates in the motor cortex, the brain area that “sends messages” to our muscles to move.
However, a rehearsed laugh also has some benefits compared to spontaneous, since it is more accessible, requires little effort, is independent of personal characteristics or socioeconomic context, requires less emotional involvement, and can lead to spontaneous laughter. For all this, laughter can also be used as a therapeutic element in laughter therapy.