What is laughter
Laughter is a universal emotion because it transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries. While the specific triggers and expressions of laughter may vary across cultures, the underlying emotional experience and the physiological response remain largely consistent among humans.
Laughter is believed to have evolutionary origins that are deeply rooted in our biology. It is an instinctive response that emerges early in human development. Babies as young as three to four months old start to laugh, even before they can speak or understand language. This suggests that laughter is innate and not solely learned through social and cultural factors.
Regardless of cultural background, when we laugh, our bodies exhibit similar physiological responses. Laughing involves the activation of various systems in the body, such as the respiratory, muscular, and cardiovascular systems. It is accompanied by distinctive vocalizations, facial expressions, and body movements that are recognizable across different cultures.
Laughter is a powerful and unifying human experience that connects us as a species, highlighting our shared humanity and the similarities that bind us together. We may come from different cultures but if we watch a funny movie together, we can make us burst out laughing at the same time.
Why we laugh
Laughter is a complex human behavior that serves multiple purposes and is deeply ingrained in our nature. While something funny can make us laugh, laughter actually goes beyond simple amusement and plays various roles in our lives.
- Social bonding: Laughter plays a crucial role in social bonding and
communication. It serves as a way to connect with others, convey positive emotions, and establish rapport. Social bonds and communication deepen, fostering stronger relationships. We are 30 times more likely to laugh in a group. Young children between the ages of 2.5 and 4 were found to be eight times more likely to laugh at a cartoon if they watched it with another child. The shared language of laughter can transcend language barriers and create a sense of unity and understanding among people. When we laugh together, there is a positive vibe and shared intimacy through participation in a common experience. This fosters a sense of belonging and cooperation within social groups. This bonding function of laughter likely contributed to the survival and well-being of early human communities.
- Universal triggers: While humor and the specific things that make
people laugh can vary across cultures, there are common triggers of laughter that span different societies. Elements such as surprise, incongruity, absurdity, and playfulness tend to evoke laughter across cultures. Certain basic forms of humor, such as physical comedy or funny situations, can generate laughter in diverse audiences.
- Emotional release: Laughter often serves as an emotional release,
allowing individuals to express joy, amusement, relief, or happiness.
The underlying emotions that laughter represents are universal and experienced by people across cultures. The positive feelings associated with laughter can transcend cultural boundaries and create a shared experience of enjoyment.
- Stress relief: Laughter serves as a natural mechanism to relieve
stress and tension. When we laugh, our body releases endorphins, which are neurochemicals that promote feelings of pleasure and relaxation.
Laughter helps to reduce the levels of stress hormones like cortisol, thus providing a physiological release from stress and promoting overall well-being.
- Cognitive stimulation: Laughter engages our cognitive processes and stimulates the brain. It involves recognizing patterns, incongruities, and surprises, which can activate various areas of the brain involved in reward, pleasure, and humour processing. This cognitive stimulation can enhance mental flexibility, creativity, and problem-solving abilities.
- Natural communication tool: Laughter transcends language barriers.
When there are positive things to laugh at, it stirs positive emotions, playfulness, and a shared understanding among individuals. It helps facilitate social interactions and create a positive atmosphere in social settings. Laughter can also diffuse tense situations, promote empathy, and foster a sense of connection with others.
The ability to laugh is an inherent part of our human nature. Sometimes we find that we need to take ourselves less seriously and laugh at ourselves. Laughter of all sorts contribute to our well-being and our ability to connect with others.
Why we cannot stop laughing sometimes
There are times when we find ourselves unable to stop laughing, even when the situation may not be particularly humorous. This uncontrollable laughter is often referred to as “laughing fits” or “giggling spells.”
- Release of tension: Sometimes, laughter can serve as a release of built-up tension or stress. When we experience a moment of tension or anxiety, laughter can help dissipate those feelings and provide a sense of relief. It’s a natural response that allows us to temporarily let go of negative emotions.
- Laughter is contagious: when we see or hear someone else laughing, it can trigger a similar response in us. This social contagion effect can be particularly strong in group settings or when we are surrounded by people who are laughing. The laughter of others can create a positive and infectious atmosphere that makes it difficult to stop laughing.
- Incongruity or surprise: Laughter often arises from unexpected or
incongruous situations. When we encounter something that deviates from our expectations or is absurd, our brain processes it as incongruity, and laughter becomes a natural response. In these cases, the laughter may persist because our brain continues to find the situation surprising or incongruous.
- Emotional release: Laughter can serve as a form of emotional release,
allowing us to let go of pent-up emotions. It can be a way to express joy, happiness, or excitement. Sometimes, when we find something extremely funny, the laughter becomes intense and difficult to control as it becomes intertwined with our emotional state.
What are the benefits of laughing
Incorporating laughter into your daily life through humour, social interactions, or engaging in activities that make you laugh can have profound and lasting benefits. Experts found that children can laugh up to 300-400 times in a day, but an adult laughs 15 times a day. A 40 year old laughs 4 times on average. Here are some reasons why we should take heart and laugh more.
Stress reduction: Laughter helps reduce the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, in the body. It triggers the release of endorphins, which are natural mood-lifting chemicals that promote relaxation and alleviate stress.
Improved mood: Laughing increases the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in regulating mood. It can enhance feelings of happiness, joy, and overall well-being.
Enhanced immune system: Laughter boosts the activity of immune cells, including antibodies and natural killer cells, which help defend the body against infections and diseases. It strengthens the immune system and promotes overall health.
Pain relief: Laughing triggers the release of endorphins, which act as natural painkillers. It can temporarily relieve pain, reduce discomfort, and improve tolerance to pain.
Social connection: Laughing together creates a positive and enjoyable social bond. It strengthens relationships, fosters a sense of belonging, and promotes social connection and cohesion. It also helps to diffuse conflicts, enhances teamwork and group bonding.
Cardiovascular health: Laughter improves blood flow and increases the dilation of blood vessels, which can enhance cardiovascular health. It helps lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, and improve overall cardiovascular function.
Muscle relaxation: When we laugh, our muscles experience a brief period of relaxation, similar to the effect of a mini-workout. It can relieve tension in the muscles, reduce physical symptoms of stress, and promote a sense of relaxation.
Increased resilience: Laughter can help develop a positive mindset and increase resilience in the face of challenges. It allows us to find humour and perspective even in difficult situations, helping us cope better with stress and adversity.
Improved cognitive function: Laughing stimulates brain activity and enhances cognitive function. It can improve memory, creativity, problem-solving skills, and overall mental performance.
Emotional well-being: Laughter has a profound impact on our emotional well-being. It can alleviate anxiety, depression, and feelings of sadness. Regular laughter promotes a more positive outlook on life and increases emotional resilience.
When was the last time you laughed? Why not be like the five year old and throw in a few laughs. If laughter would have its way, I suppose it can embolden us to live, laugh, love more. Let us seek out opportunities for laughter and it enliven us.