There’s no denying laughter is the best medicine, and it’s not just a popular saying. There is ample scientific evidence to back this claim up. Engaging in genuine laughter regularly is good for your body and your brain. In fact, the more you laugh, the better your overall health is going to be. Laughter improves immunity and the cardiovascular system, but its effects on the brain are truly amazing. Let’s look at all the amazing ways laughter improves your life and your brain.
Anatomy of laughter
Laughing is one of the most natural expressions humans are capable of. But what goes on behind the smile while you’re laughing is far more complex. Laughter 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:
- Analysis of words or situations happens in the left side of the cerebral cortex.
- The frontal lobe and the limbic system beneath the cortex—the area that processes nuanced emotions—gets activated.
- The right side of the cortex works out the distinct trigger of laughter, or in lay terms, ‘gets’ the joke.
- Brainwaves travel to sensory processing areas in the occipital lobe.
- Motor functions activate to produce the physical ‘act’ of laughing.
Benefits of Laughter
Laughter benefits your brain on both social and individual levels. Whether you’re laughing with others or laughing alone, the benefits of laughter are consistent. Here are some 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 stabilizes the flow of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. Studies have linked laughter 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 your brain. Laughter produces dopamine, known as the ‘reward hormone’, and regulates mood, motivation, learning, and attention. The influx of dopamine activates the reward circuit in the brain, making you feel good, 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. The tendency to forget things that should be available in your working memory—like where you put your keys or the name of a particular object—increases when you are under a lot of stress. Laughter can be an immense help for that. A study at Loma Linda University in Southern California tested forty older adults for memory and stress levels in controlled conditions. Before giving the participants tests, they divided them into two groups. One half watched a funny video for twenty minutes and the other half simply sat calmly in another room. The people who watched the funny video and laughed performed better in short-term memory tests. 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. Make time to laugh and spread laughter a little more. Your brain needs it—and so do you.
For more on the neuroscience of happiness, watch this video with Dr. Daniel Amen: