In 1964, Norman Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a debilitating condition that left him in constant pain. His doctors theorised that stress may have brought on his illness. Cousins decided that if negative emotions made him sick, then positive emotions could make him feel better. He checked himself into a hotel room and watched comedy films back to back. He found that laughter had an anesthetic effect and that ten minutes of laughter would give him two hours of pain-free sleep. His laughter therapy boosted his healing and two years later his illness was gone.
Medical professionals were fascinated by Cousins’ experience. The case opened up a whole new area of research as scientists were encouraged to excavate the many health benefits of laughter. They found that laughter helps to ease pain. The intake of oxygen rich-air activates the release of endorphins which promotes circulation and allows the muscles to relax. When we laugh our cardiovascular function improves which helps strengthen our immune and endocrine systems. On an emotional level, laughter distills anger and sadness which ultimately offers a boost to our mental health.
Laughter isn’t just good for your health – it’s a fundamental part of communication. We are 30 times more likely to laugh when we’re with other people than when we’re alone. Most people think that they only laugh when they find something funny, but that’s not true. We laugh all the time in everyday conversation to show that we’re comfortable with other people and to show that we understand. Infants laugh long before they are able to talk. Even babies who are born deaf and blind – who have never seen nor heard laughter – can and do laugh.
Laughter has even been shown to boost productivity, especially in the workplace. In a 2009 study at Northwestern University, researchers found that participants became better problem-solvers after watching a funny video. When the workplace encourages team members to share a joke every now and then, stress is reduced while productivity and creativity soar.