Is Laughter the Best Medicine? What Mental Health Practitioners Know
Humor can benefit us psychologically, mentally, and emotionally.
What’s blue and smells like paint?
Okay. That may not be the world’s most hilarious joke, but it may have made you smile. And that’s a good thing. Because humor can do more than simply lighten the mood. Psychologists and doctors have reason to believe that laughter can benefit us in a number of ways.* Schools of psychology and medicine still need to do more research to draw any definitive, scientific conclusions, but here are a few ways laughing may help us live better:
It Can Relieve Stress
Laughing makes us feel good. That’s no surprise, of course. But that good feeling is more than a purely psychological response. Research suggests laughing causes positive physical effects.† Laughing increases our intake of oxygen-rich air, helping our heart and muscles. It activates our stress response—increasing heart rate and blood pressure—and then cools it down, leaving us with a sense of relaxation. And laughing stimulates circulation, which can alleviate some of the symptoms of stress.
It Can Lower Blood Pressure
You’ve probably heard that being stressed can raise your blood pressure. Turns out, the inverse may also be true. Taking time to smile and laugh can lower blood pressure. This has to do with the way our arteries respond when we’re amused. Research has shown that, after watching a funny movie, our arterial compliance (i.e. how well our blood is flowing) improves for the next 24 hours.‡
It Can Burn Calories
Have you ever felt a bit tired after spending a night laughing with friends? There’s a good reason for that. Laughter is, after all, a physical activity. While it’s not as good of a workout as going for a run, 10–15 minutes of laughing can burn 50 calories.*
It May Help Our Immune System
While laughter’s exact effect on our immune system is not yet fully understood, research suggests a positive link. One way laughter helps our immune system is by fighting the kinds of stress that are known to weaken our immune response. Laughter may also increase production of antibodies and activate T-cells, which help us defeat pathogens in our body.§
It Can Help Fight Depression
Those suffering from forms of depression often struggle to feel joy for any extended period of time. However, most people with depression can still laugh, and that laughter can be part of their treatment. The effectiveness of laughter as a treatment for depression centers on the mind-body connection. Laughter helps us feel physically better and those physical improvements—better blood flow, more oxygen, less stress, better sleep—can, in turn, improve our mood.**
It Can Make Us Smarter
You may not want to call a movie a “dumb comedy” ever again. Humor—even silly movies—can improve our ability to make connections between disparate pieces of information.†† Since the ability to make connections between bits of information is one of the key ways we measure intelligence, it’s quite possible that laughing makes us smarter.
You Can Learn More With a Degree In Psychology
As noted, mental health practitioners, physicians, and psychologists need to study humor and laughter a lot more to confirm exactly how—and why—laugher benefits us. If you want to be a part of such research, one of the best steps you can take is to earn a PhD in Psychology. This advanced psychology degree can help you gain the skills you need to make valuable contributions as a researcher.
With many universities, you don’t even have to hold a Master of Science in Psychology to enroll in a psychology PhD program. In fact, you don’t even have to attend classes at a physical campus. Thanks to online education, you can earn your PhD in Psychology from home. Not only that, an online PhD in Psychology program will give you the flexibility to complete your coursework on a schedule that works around your job. With online psychology courses, it’s more possible than ever before to earn your PhD in psychology.
Of all the careers in psychology, one focused on research can be personally and professionally fulfilling. If you want to research psychological questions like the effects of laughter, you can put yourself on the path to just such a career with an online psychology degree.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online PhD in Psychology degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
*R. Griffin, Give Your Body a Boost – With Laughter, WebMD, on the internet at www.webmd.com/balance/features/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter#1.
†Mayo Clinic Staff, Stress Relief From Laughter? It’s No Joke, Mayo Clinic, on the internet at www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/art-20044456.
‡American College of Sports Medicine, Laugh a Little to Protect Heart, Lower Blood Pressure, on the internet at www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/news-releases/2011/08/01/laugh-a-little-to-help-protect-heart-lower-blood-pressure.
§Science Daily, Body’s Response to Repetitive Laughter is Similar to the Effect of Repetitive Exercise, Study Finds, on the internet at www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100426113058.htm.
**J. Yim, Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review, The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine, on the internet at www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/tjem/239/3/239_243/_html.
†† S. Weems, Does Humor Make Your Smarter? Psychology Today, on the internet at www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-s-so-funny/201408/does-humor-make-you-smarter.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.