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The Social and Emotional Effects of Laughter. Is Laughter Good For The Soul? What Health Conditions Benefit From Laughter?

Social, Emotional and Spiritual Benefits of Laughter 

Laughter can have a hugely positive impact on our emotional wellbeing, our social interactions and our spiritual outlook. Discover how increasing the amount we laugh, and interacting with others in a more mirthful manner, can have enormous benefit.

Chilean Nobel Prize poet, Pablo Neruda, described laughter as "the language of the soul.” We all have a spiritual core that is common for everybody and transcends gender and race. Emotions follow a similar pattern in all cultures and places, and most people overlook the fact that laughter remains the same social cue wherever it appears. We all recognise laughter as good humour and link it to positive emotions, happiness and enjoyment. But let’s take a leap forward and go deeper into our understanding. What’s the effect of laughter on our social interactions? Are there measurable emotional and spiritual benefits to it?

Wordcloud of the social, emotional and spiritual benefits of laughter
Two animated figures lying on the floor, holding hands and looking at the sky, surrounded by love hearts

Laughter in social interactions is very complex because it is a versatile behaviour that could be either serious and hostile or a rather pleasing moment shared with loved ones. Laughter can vary widely, depending on the environment, intention and the people. When laughter is shared in a non-derogatory way, it is a cost-free medication that makes us feel better and helps us cope with daily life difficulties.

 

Mounting research is currently focusing on laughter as a therapy in both emotional and physical ailments but there is also growing evidence to show that laughter can have a profound and measurable impact on learning, creativity, productivity, morale, teamwork, memory and much more. So, there’s more than enough reason to consider the benefits a programme of laughter could have to your life and workplace, as side from your health.

One thing that nobody can deny: laughter can strengthen relationships. When intimate, it signals social, and even romantic interest in a companion, thus fostering emotional connections between both. Laughing together also creates social bonds between large groups of people, as it increases cooperation and enhances teamwork, often between people or groups that wouldn't otherwise interact.

Laughter can be present during celebration or hard times, and during those negative situations, good humour has the effect of uniting people and building trust. It can be used to defuse anger and conflict in a relationship or a determined situation because it triggers positive feelings and lowers our defenses towards perceived threatening situations. A good laugh can be an easy way to break the ice and heal resentments and disagreements. Therefore, it is often present in uncomfortable and embarrassing situations to attenuate negative feelings and modulate negative perceptions.

Laughter is contagious. Many people have experienced the inexplicable urge of laughing when someone else is cracking up. And we don’t even know the reason why. TV sitcoms know that laugh is contagious and that is the reason they use laughter tracks in their shows. When people are in the right mood, laughter can be as contagious as yawns, and it can even change people’s bad mood and make them smile and feel more positive. Even smiling can be considered contagious because reciprocal smiles are often a sign of goodwill and even good manners in many countries. More than half of people reciprocate a smile, and it can be a great way to break the ice and start a new conversation.

Three animated figures demonstrating teamwork and friendship
Two animated figures shaking hands and resolving their differences

The reason behind this is that laughter serves more as a type of social interaction than an individual performance. We are 30 times more likely to smile and laugh when we are with others than when doing it alone, Humour usually has a social background and sharing humour makes up more than half the fun. Laughter is more about communication than the joke and the comedy itself, it is a pure social concept with considerable physiological and health implications.

As such, laughter has been studied in groups where socialising is a particular challenge. One such example is with individuals living with certain autism spectrum conditions. Researchers propose there are potential communicative functions to be studied and discussed in relation to how they experience laughter and how/when it is displayed. Some individuals, for example, do not respond to laughter as another person without the condition might, such as random outbursts of laughter, usually unexplained and apparently not triggered by any external source. Other individuals find expressing laughter, in response to humour, equally challenging. A carefully structured programme of laughter can form a wider plan for developing strategies to better cope and manage social situations.

Certain mood disorders, such as depression, can also be improved with humour and laughter, and has been endorsed as a successful complementary therapy alongside their medical treatment. When neurotransmitters in the brain are not functioning as they should, thus signalling negative emotions and inducing psychological symptoms such as sadness and even suicidal thoughts, laughter has been identified to help depressed people regain a sense of optimism, endure stressful situation, improve their problem-solving skills and improving their overall sense of wellbeing. In depression, laughter therapy can be used to reduce negative cognitive responses, and it has been identified to have the best stress-relieving effect among many other methods. Studies have shown that even forced laughs can help our body react to it and feel better, not to say that forced laugh can easily become a genuine one.

Animated figure sat on the ground with their head in their hands, looking stressed, anxious and depressed
Animated figure looking angry, with steam coming from their ears

A recent study about laughter therapy on chronic depression in women, the individuals were taken blood serotonin concentration levels, and the lowest results were found in those with the most severe cases of depression. However, after sessions of laughter therapy, the serotonin levels measured in their blood increased. Interestingly, the group showing the lowest results experienced the greatest increase in serotonin levels. These levels are very important in cases of depression because it is a hormone that help us control tension and maintain calmness. It is a hormone that counters depressive symptoms, and it is very easy and inexpensive to find: it is produced and released inside our own body when we do adequate exercise or laugh.

So, choose a sitcom, a stride with friends, and if you don’t feel like it try forcing a laugh every once in a while. It is a non-pharmacological way to make you feel better with yourself, it improves your social skills, and don’t forget it is a universal language, the language of the soul.

References:

Runyon, T. J. (2015). Function of laughter from a student with autism (Doctoral dissertation, San Francisco State University).

Helt, M. S., & Fein, D. A. (2016). Facial feedback and social input: Effects on laughter and enjoyment in children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 46(1), 83-94.

Cha, M. Y., & Hong, H. S. (2015). Effect and Path Analysis of Laughter Therapy on Serotonin, Depression and Quality of Life in Middle-aged Women. Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing, 45(2).

Yim, J. (2016). Therapeutic benefits of laughter in mental health: a theoretical review. The Tohoku journal of experimental medicine, 239(3), 243-249.

P. Glenn & E. Holt (Eds.), Onlaughing; Studies of laughter in interaction (pp. 25–38). London,. UK

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