Social, Emotional and Spiritual Benefits of Laughter
A Nobel Prize poet from Chile called Pablo Neruda once wrote that “laughter is the language of the soul”. Certainly, after taking sex, race, and skin color away, we all have a spiritual core that is common for everybody. 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 recognize laughter as good humor, link it to positive emotions and enjoying a good time with friends and family. But let’s take a leap forward and go deeper into our understanding. What’s the effect of laughter in our social interactions? Are there measurable emotional and spiritual benefits to it?
Laughter in social interactions is very complex because it is a versatile behavior that could be either serious and hostile or a rather pleasing moment shared with loved ones. Laughter can vary widely, depending on the environments and people, and in the end of the day it is a cost-free medication that makes us feel better and help us cope with daily-life difficulties. Mounting research is currently focusing on laughter as a therapy in both emotional and physical ailments. So, there’s more than enough reason to uncover laughing and its benefits by taking it as a whole field of study, an interesting and rather optimistic one.
There’s one thing that nobody can deny: laughter strengthens relationships. It signals social, and even romantic interest in a companion, thus fostering emotional connections between both. Laughing together creates social bonds between people, but this effects is better seen when laughter is intimate. Sharing a laugh with more than 3 people usually lessens the bonding effect laughter creates in people. However, groups and teams also are strengthened by laughter, as it enhances cooperation and teamwork, especially when it comes to sports.
Laughter can be present during celebration or hard times, and during those negative situations, good humor 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 is in the right mood, laughter can be as contagious as yawns, and it can even change people’s bad mood and make them smile. Even smiling can be considered contagious because reciprocal smiles are often a sign of good will and even good manners in many countries. More than half people would reciprocate a smile, and it can be a good way to break the ice and start a new conversation.
The reason behind this is that laughter serves more as a type of social interaction than an individual performance. It is 30 times more likely to smile and laugh when we are with others than doing it alone because humor usually has a social background and sharing humor 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 physiological and health implications.
As such, laughter has been studied in socially challenged groups such as individuals with autism spectrum disorder, and researchers propose there are potential communicative functions to be studied and discussed. These individuals do not respond to laughter as another person would, but has random outbursts of laughter, usually unexplained and apparently not triggered by any external source. The apparently random cases of laughter seem to have a pattern that would need to be addressed individually to incorporate laughter into the therapeutic program of individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
Common emotional problems such as depression can also be improved with humor and laughter. More than just being sad, depression is a mental disease in which the neurotransmitters in the brain are not functioning as they should, thus signaling emotions and inducing psychological symptoms such as sadness and even suicidal thoughts. In this regard, 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.
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.
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