American philosopher and psychologist William James once said, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy – we’re happy because we laugh.”
People believe that only people who are happy laugh a lot, and that may be true for some. But in most cases, people need to laugh first to become happy.
But what exactly is laughter?
Laughter is our body’s way to express humor. It is a combination of sound and facial expressions, of contracting muscles and respiratory irregularities.
How does laughter affect the human body?
Now, this is a question most people don’t think about and have never considered before, and the answer is shockingly amazing.
When we laugh, a variety of facial muscles contract, the diaphragm hardens and forces air up into the larynx, which in turn affects the vocal chords, producing the familiar sound of laughter. Sometimes the tear ducts activate, resulting in tears of laughter.
Laughter is good for our health, but contrary to popular belief, research has proven that you need more facial muscles to laugh or smile than to frown. Although there are a number of controversial topics on how many muscles exactly are needed to laugh, all researchers agree that this number varies from person to person. The least possible number of muscles needed to smile is ten; whereas the least number possible needed to frown is six. That means we need five muscle pairs to give a polite, indifferent smile, but only three to frown.
Laughter can help prevent premature aging, although, outwardly, a person who laughs or smiles a lot develops creases near the mouth and the eyes, also known as laugh lines; while inwardly, the body stays healthy. Frown lines can also form on a person that frowns a lot, though as we don’t use as many muscles to frown, the creases are considerably less; inwardly, however, the body ages faster.
Unfortunately, as a person matures, so does his/her sense of humor, and we find less and lesser reasons to laugh.
What people don’t know is that laughter is good for their health not only because it makes them feel good, but because it literally boosts their immune system, keeps their heart healthy and gives them a boost of energy.
How – why?
Laughter releases endorphins which are brain chemicals also known as neurotransmitters that affect the body in a variety of ways:
- Endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers, similar to morphine, and when released, they relieve pain.
- Endorphins can also reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and act as anti-depressants.
- Endorphins can lift the mood and give us a sense of well being.
- Endorphins can help prevent strokes and heart attacks, which means laughter is good for the heart. The reason is that endorphins reduce the stress hormones that help the blood pressure increase, which means that endorphins also helps lower the blood pressure.
Other benefits of laughter are:
- Because laughter increases the heart rate, it also increases blood oxygen, which is good for cognitive function and alertness.
- When we exercise, endorphins are released to provide us energy to perform; this means laughter also gives us an energy boost. In fact, there are plenty of studies that states laughing or hard laughter equals a few minutes of exercise, as it gets the heart pumping, the muscles contracting and gives us a boost of energy.
How about the immune system itself, how does laughter affect it?
The human body, or the immune system in a human body, reacts to laughter as the diaphragm gets our lymphatic system pumping. Our immune system also has receptors that respond and activates with the release of endorphins. When endorphins are released, a chain reaction happens to the immune system that helps the body fight and kill infected cells as well as build antibodies. Studies say that a person who laughs hard a few times gives his immune system a healthy boost.
And that old saying about laughter being contagious? Science has proven that the brain responds to the sound of laughter, commanding the body to react accordingly.
Who wants to be friends with someone who’s always laughing? It’s contagious, remember?
Philosopher and psychologist William James got it right, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh.”
If laughter can be so good to our body and mind, why not laugh our way into good health?
Laughter is a super powerful medicine that needs no prescription and costs nothing, and yet, we humans find fewer reasons to laugh than to frown.