Laughter and Happiness
Here’s a sobering fact: the average 4-year-old laughs three hundred times a day.
As for the average 40-year-old? The number goes all the way down to a mere four times per day.
Why is that so? And is there an ideal amount of times we should be laughing each day for optimal levels of joy and happiness?
1. Why aren’t we laughing more?
Robert McGrath, the former coordinator of mind/body wellness services at University Health Services at UW-Madison, remarks that you’re less likely to laugh when you’re working alone in the office in front of a screen.
Adulthood with all its responsibilities and commitments can also bring a lot more seriousness into the way we perceive and live our lives.
Notice that when you have a good, spontaneous laugh, it is a whole body experience. According to psychologist Dr. Susan LaCombe of MyShrink.com, laughter is connected to a nervous system that is able to “let go.”
She explains how playfulness is a sign of emotional health and a valuable emotional resource. “What's significant is that play is very present,” says LaCombe. When we are emotionally healthy, it's easier to express our playful side. It helps us enjoy the present moment.
LaCombe reflects on how some people have a difficult time accepting the value of laughter and a playful attitude. Playfulness can be misconstrued as being a sign that someone has some growing up to do. This may be true in some cases, but you can't deny how it nurtures the fun and carefree kid inside of you.
2. What are some of the effects of laughter?
Laughter enlivens us. Research shows that laughter has the ability to reduce stress while increasing hormones like endorphins and antibodies which fight against infection. The increased flow of blood to the heart also contributes to better relaxation and a better mood overall. This mood extends to our outlook on life and the world around us.
Think back to some of the happiest moments in your relationship history. I’m willing to bet that there were plenty of smiles and laughter. Laughing helps us feel more optimistic and alive. We worry less over our appearance or where we’re supposed to be tomorrow (or in a year, or five, or ten for us long-term planners).
Speaking of relationships…
3. Relationships last longer when you laugh
Studies have found that shared laughter was “positively associated with relationship quality.” Thus, couples who spend time laughing together are more likely to enjoy a stronger bond through a positive relationship.
Laura Kurtz, a social psychologist from the University of North Carolina, says that there’s evidence that laughing together is a supportive activity. She states that participants who laughed more with their partners during a study tended to also report feeling closer to their partners.
Kurtz concludes that couples who laugh more together are more likely to have higher-quality relationships. Thus, shared laughter is “an indicator of greater relationship quality.”
However, the human brain can tell the difference between real and forced laughter. Awkward chuckles and fake grins point to a connection that’s less than genuine.
5. Laughter’s significance and evolution
Laughter has fascinated behavioral biologists for decades because it is difficult to determine the evolution of this behavior.
The human brain is believed to have evolved rapidly as the size of human group sizes increased. Viewed in this context, laughter is a method which individuals make use of to signal their participation in bigger group chats. This method contributes towards bonding between the individuals in the larger group.
The evolution of laughter is mirrored by similar behavior displayed by adult chimpanzees, who are our closest cousins in the animal kingdom. Chimpanzees have been observed to product laugh imitations while responding to the laughter of others. It serves the same function of social bonding as in the human world.
6. Tips on How to Laugh More
So, how do you go about incorporating more laughter into your daily life?
Here are some suggestions:
- Locate your favorite comedian or comedy show. There’s a type of humor out there for everyone. Whether it’s late night, late late night, or dry British humor that’s more your cup of tea, keep searching for comedy that resonates with what you find funny.
- Get a pet. Pets benefit our lifestyles in a number of ways. They’re full of energy and many of their natural habits will appear adorable to you as a dedicated and loving pet owner. Think of a cat happily rolling around on the ground or a puppy choosing your lap as its napping spot. It’s hard for these moments to NOT put a smile on your face.
- Laugh more with your partner. Find a show or activity that you can enjoy with your partner. One of you may be more serious than the other, but perhaps both of you enjoy a show like James Corden’s “carpool karaoke” or The Simpsons. Laughter promotes bonding, so it’s no laughing matter if this aspect is missing in your relationships.
- Think about what makes you laugh. When was the last time you had a genuinely good laugh? It could be through a friend with a talent for witty expressions, or it could be through a humorous film or book. Seek out more people, situations, or works of art or entertainment that brings a smile to your face.
- Learn to laugh at your mistakes. Humor is so powerful that it has the ability to turn a negative outlook into a positive one. As the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde once quipped, “Experience is the name we give to our mistakes.” Instead of feeling upset for a prolonged amount of time, adopt a lighter look on whatever it is that’s bothering you. For example, you may think that you’re unlucky in relationships…but if you think about what you’ve learned, you realize that you’re wiser now and able to appreciate the freedom of being your own person. The more you make an effort to smile, the more reasons you’ll find to laugh and be happy, which brightens your day and life no matter what age you are.