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Written by Madeline Vann, MPH Medically reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD
Laughter is a key component of a happy life, and it has powerful physical and mental benefits. No matter what you’re facing, you can learn to laugh and benefit from its healing ways.
Funny movies, sitcoms, cute toddlers, and a good friend’s jokes can all offer one of the most powerful, natural stress relievers out there: laughter.
“I think one of the best things is that laughter increases your sense of humor,” says Lynda Tourloukis, a certified laughter teacher based in Park Ridge, Ill. A motivational speaker and life coach, Tourloukis says she became interested in the healing benefits of laughter after she and her husband spent a weekend chuckling and guffawing at a seminar offered by the Humor Project, an organization that focuses on “the positive power of humor.” Now she trains other laughter teachers and has become a personal laughter advocate.
Health Boosts From a Good Laugh
The benefits of a good laugh are wide-ranging and can include protection from emotional issues like depression and improving the health of your heart. Here’s what experts know about the health benefits of laughter:
Mental health benefits.
Although you probably can’t laugh off depression, one of the many benefits of laughter and a sense of humor is that they buffer you against the negatives of life that could lead to depression. As an added bonus, research shows that people who use humor to fight stress also feel less lonely and more positive about themselves. And one recent study found that humor therapy was as effective as widely used antipsychotic drugs — minus the side effects — in managing agitation in patients with dementia.
Although we can’t yet say that a certain number of laughs every day will keep the doctor away, studies show that people who say they laugh a lot also tend to be in good health and generally feel well. Laughter is also one of the most commonly used complementary therapies among cancer patients, who find that one of the benefits of laughter is an improved quality of life.
Heart health benefits.
Laughter could be healthy for your heart, too. Some research shows that when you laugh, there is an increase in oxygen-rich blood flow in your body, possibly due to the release of endorphins, which create a chemical rush that counters negative feelings and stress. Activities that increase endorphins include a good workout and listening to music you love, and laughter deserves its place on the list with these other stress busters.
Building Laughter Into Your Life
Loving the benefits of laughter but don’t feel like laughing? Sometimes you have to make a conscious effort to laugh. If you’re facing tough times such as a tight budget, work stress, or an illness like cancer, it may help to learn techniques to bring the benefits of laughter into your life. You can try the old stand-by recommendations:
Rent a funny movie, read a funny book, or watch a funny sitcom.
Spend time with an amusing buddy.
Look on the light side: Go places that help you remember good times that have made you laugh in the past.
Or you can join the “laughter movement” to learn about the benefits of laughter while fighting stress:
Practice laughter yoga.
This specialized combination of yoga breathing techniques and exhalation creates a self-induced “laugh” that provides all the benefits of laughter rooted in humor. You can include this practice in your day by adding a little “ha ha ha” when you shake hands or introduce yourself — to fellow laughter fans, of course! Check out Laughter Yoga International for more information.
Find a laughter group.
“It’s always my recommendation to get together with other people to laugh. It’s a little hard to laugh alone, unless you have practiced it,” Tourloukis says. At Laughter Yoga International you can search over 6,000 social laughter clubs around the world to find one closest to you.
Have a “woohoo!” Tourloukis hosts a free daily laughter call that is only 20 minutes long and ends with a laugh-inducing “woohoo!” But she says anytime you look at the clock, if it’s 20 minutes past the hour, your own “Woohoo!” will help bring a smile to your face.