All of us are guilty of this one thing. We have all watched a funny video and laughed out loud in the office at least once in our lives.
Well you need not feel too guilty about it. But a question arises that is laughing good for you and your brain? Yes, laughter is good for your and your brain, and the more chances you get to have a genuine laugh, the better your overall health is going to be. ‘Laughter is the best medicine’ is not just a popular saying, it has ample scientific backing too. It has multiple health benefits – for example improving immunity and the cardiovascular system – but its effects on the brain are truly amazing.
March 19th is celebrated as National Let’s Laugh Day in the USA, and it’s right around the corner. On this occasion, let’s look at all the amazing ways laughter improves our lives, and more specifically, our brains.
Anatomy of laughter
Laughing is considered one of the most natural and instinctive expressions available to humans. But what goes on behind the skull during a laugh is not even remotely simple. Laughter, in fact, uses a sizable chunk of the brain by connecting and working out several areas at once. Let’s break down the journey of a laugh in your brain as revealed by humor researcher Peter Derk’s experiment:
- Analysis of words or situations happens in the left side of the cerebral cortex.
- The large frontal lobe and the limbic system beneath the cortex (that processes nuanced emotions) get activated.
- The right side of the cortex works out the distinct trigger of laughter, or in lay terms, ‘gets’ the joke.
- Brainwaves are sent out to sensory processing areas located in the occipital lobe.
- The areas responsible for motor functions are activated to produce the physical ‘act’ of laughing.
Benefits of Laughter
Laughter is one of those things that benefits our brain on both social and individual levels. Whether you are laughing with others or laughing alone, the benefits of laughter are always there for you, although they sometimes overlap. Here are some of the things that laughter does to your brain:
- Lowers stress and pain – Laughter can work wonders for stress relief. Studies have shown that muscles stay relaxed for up to 45 minutes after a good, hearty laugh. Laughing also stabilizes the flow of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. Laughter has been linked to the production of endorphins, which are considered the natural pain killer of the body.
- Helps with learning and motivation – Laughter has an important role to play in the reward circuitry of our brains. Laughter produces Dopamine, known as the ‘reward hormone’ and responsible for regulating mood, motivation, learning, and attention. The influx of Dopamine activates the reward circuit in the brain, making us feel good and positive, as well as motivated to move forward. When in a stressful or dead-end situation, try taking a few minutes off to share a laugh with co-workers, or maybe watch a stand-up routine. You’ll find renewed motivation and focus when you go back to work.
- Prevents short-term memory loss – Stress is bad for your short-term memory, especially as you get older. We tend to forget many things which should ideally be available to our working memory – like where we put our keys or the name of a particular thing – when we are under a lot of stress. Laughter can be an immense help for that. In a study conducted by researchers in Loma Linda University in Southern California, 40 older adults were tested for memory and stress levels in controlled conditions. 20 of them were given a funny video to watch for 20 minutes before they took the tests, and 20 others were just made to sit calmly. The people who watched the funny video and had laughed performed better in short-term memory tests and their stress levels were also significantly lower.
Laughter is good for you in every way. It’s uncomplicated, it’s instinctive, and it has the power to bring people together almost instantly. Let’s pledge to laugh and spread laughter a little more. Our brain needs it, and so does society.