The Physiology of Laughter: A Brief Overview

Hearty group laughter has profound short and long-term effects on our minds and body:

  1. It causes our brain and body to release a ‘cocktail’ of hormones and peptides. These
    Brain cell(s)

    Brain cell(s) (Photo credit: jepoirrier)

    stimulate a series of reactions in our body, the most important are

  • To undo the effects of stress by reducing stress-related hormone & chemical levels (these effects are sudden and long-lasting)
  • To release endorphins, a self-manufactured natural opiate that has been scientifically shown to carry the messages of attachments and bonding (the scientific terms for love) and to stimulate feelings of caring and forgiveness
  • Creates a positive state of mind and boosts optimism, self confidence and self-worth
  • Quickly boosts our immune system, quickly boosting levels of anti-viral and anti-infection cells, also those that fight cancer. Almost all groups practicing group laughter report a drop in illness, sick leave & absenteeism
  • Boosts systems that are ‘switched off’ or disrupted by stress, especially the circulatory and digestive systems
  1. It promotes child-like playful behavior that is key to the development of emotional intelligence, connection and community. Combining childlike playfulness with group laughter has a number of positive results:
  • Increased social connections: the number of a person has each day is a direct indicator of health, wellness and long life. In children social play is key to the development of social skills — restricted play & resulting social skills has been shown to lead to life-long problems
  • Stimulates willingness to learn and retention, boosts creativity and self discipline
  • Quickly breaks down barriers and promotes team-building, even across different languages and cultures. It quickly builds a ‘caring & sharing’ spirit among the group who laughs together
  • Improves communication skills both within the group and with others
  • Provides tools to deal with stressful situations in new ways, providing an alternative to anger/aggression and resulting fear
  1. Promotes healthy diaphragm breathing, boosts lung capacity and strengthens the lungs.
  • This counters the effects of stress: shallow breathing that deprives the body of adequate oxygen
  • Fully oxygenates the blood and all major organs leaving one bursting with energy with all systems alert and ready
  1. Provides aerobic exercise:
  • Laughter provides an excellent cardio workout. Heart rate increase in one minute of hearty laughter can take 10 minutes to achieve on exercise machines.
  • Acts as an ‘internal jogging’, providing a vigorous workout to the heart, lungs, diaphragm and central body as well as some exercise for the arms & legs. This in turn massages and promotes circulation to the digestive & lymphatic systems
  • Laughter exercises, tones & firms the facial muscles and promotes the habit of smiling. Together with facial flushing from improved circulation it can leave you glowing and radiant. Many older people claim the firming and toning makes them look and feel much younger.
  1. Laughter provides major emotional benefits including:
  • Laughter provides an excellent non-violent method for the release of emotions. This cathartic benefit helps to deal with current emotional problems and can also release old emotions that are stored and poisoning our systems and ability to perform. If not released these emotions can often lead to long-term psychological and emotional problems.
  • Laughter provides strong emotional bonds with other people with whom you laugh. Science is beginning to understand the group ‘resonance’ whereby emotions are spread from person to person. In addition to creating emotional bonds between people laughing together heightens the experience and benefits for all participants.
  • Laughter is a strong tool to counter depression. It forces us to be present in the ‘here and now’, which is a place where we are not able to worry (worry is always about real or imagined past or future events).
  • The release of endorphins trigger a strong feeling of well-being and bliss that is physiologically identical to the warm positive feelings resulting from a mother’s love and attention for a child during after-birth bonding. This creates a strong positive state of mind, and our world is a reflection of our state of mind. A strong positive state of mind makes the world a happy place full of interesting and exciting people, places, emotions & experiences (as opposed to a negative state of mind that leads to gloom and depression).
  1. Stress is the number one enemy of health in today’s world.
  • Our body’s stress response system was developed in prehistoric times. In response to stress it dumps a cocktail of chemicals and hormones into our blood to shut-down body systems that are not needed for a possible ‘fight or flight’ reaction demanding extreme physical action. In prehistoric times stress situations occurred occasionally so the body had time to dissipate stress chemicals & hormones.
  • Today we are subjected to constant (or chronic) stress that results in continuous release of these substances into our body. Without time for them to dissipate they reach toxic concentrations and attack out bodies resulting in a wide variety of stress-related illness: cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure and heart attacks; arthritis, heart disease, asthma and other allergic conditions, diabetes, cancer, chronic fatigue, anxiety attacks, mood swings, psychological distress, depression, sleep problems, high blood pressure, eating disorders, peptic ulcers, poor immune function, chronic pain, colds, flu, viruses, headaches, migraines, alcoholism and drug abuse (amongst others).
  • According to the Mayo clinic typical stress symptoms include a negative state of mind with a cynical, sarcastic and critical outlook; lack of motivation; irritability & lack of patience; lack of energy; lack of satisfaction with life and achievements; disillusionment; the feeling of facing insurmountable barriers; lack of productivity and efficiency; self-medication using food, alcohol or drugs to feel better or not feel; changes in sleep and appetite habits; headaches, neck and lower back pain; loss of the ability to experience joy.


  1. Laughter is natures counter to stress – in fact laughter and stress are physiological opposites:


  • Laughter quickly reduces the levels of stress chemicals and hormones in our body
  • Laughter switches on and boosts the physiological systems that stress switches off, including the circulatory, digestive, sexual  and immune systems
  • Stress, worry, fear and emotional problems stifle learning ability, creativity, teamwork, productivity, efficiency and motivation while laughter boosts and strengthens these attributes
  • Check the lists of stress related illness and symptoms above. The effects of hearty sustained laughter have exactly the opposite symptoms and effects. Stress promotes illness, depression and anguish. laughter promotes health, wellness, emotional balance and joyfulness.
  • By increasing energy levels, optimism, communication skills, self-confidence and endorphin levels laughter yoga is increasingly being used as a preparation for stressful events. This practice is known as ‘laughter boosting’ and is gaining popularity with public speakers, actors and other public performers to prepare them for public performance.
  • Hollywood heartthrob Harry Hamlin recently used pre-performance laughter yoga sessions to boost his scores on the popular US show ‘Dancing with the Stars’. We hear people are using laughter boosting to prepare for job interviews.
  • In an educational context laughter yoga boosting is used to prepare students for examinations, and also to prepare sports teams for optimal performance before competition.

Posted on February 23, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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