It would be redundant to talk about laughter’s psychological power. laughter may be the best medicine indeed when feeling depressed or bored. It wakes us up. It gets us going. It gets us smiling. Now, is it a form of exercise? Exercise certainly is renown for changing our moods for the better. But will the physical elements of laughter qualify as exercise?
One study published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society asked that question. The crux of the study looked at the social elements of laughter, particularly if shared laughter can create better bonding experiences. But why should these particular researchers care? These psychologists and biologists also researched another topic in 2009: are athletes better on their own or stronger as a group?
They concluded that people exercising together, or working as a team, worked harder. It seems to be the “endorphin effect:”
“Laughter involves the repeated, forceful exhalation of breath from the lungs. The muscles of the diaphragm have to work very hard.” - Robin Dunbar, Professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford
This mimics what happens in strenuous exercise.
These doctors proved pain thresholds jump up thanks to laughter, especially in group situations. Some people belly-laughed, working their abdominal muscles. Endorphin levels were rising thanks to the physical activity and enabling the subject’s ability to deal with pain to strengthen. The subjects were acting as friends, feeding each other’s enjoyment:
“In other words, it was the physical act of laughing, the contracting of muscles and resulting biochemical reactions, that prompted, at least in part, the pleasure of watching the comedy. Or, as Dr. Dunbar and his colleagues write, ‘the sense of heightened affect in this context probably derives from the way laughter triggers endorphin uptake.’”
A number of other studies showed laughing helps keep the pain away in the past. In 2011, Leeds University went so far as to say that laughing was better than technological treatments for ulcers:
“Believe it or not, having a really hearty chuckle can help too. This is because laughing gets the diaphragm moving and this plays a vital part in moving blood around the body.” - Professor Andrea Nelson
So if laughter has this sort of healing effect, or this pain-fighting power, then why isn’t it used more therapeutically? In fact, it is. Check in for Part II of this series.