When was the last time you had a really good belly laugh? The kind of laugh that is so hardy you felt like you just did about 50 sit-ups? How about laughing so hard that you snorted or shot milk out of your nose? How about no sound coming out at all, and you looked like you were in pain? There are so many different ways to laugh; what’s the same is how fantastic it makes us feel.
Found across the world, laughter is used as a form of expression by all humans; it is universal. We’ve all come across that individual who seems to never even crack a smile, let alone laugh, but given the right circumstance, will burst out in laughter.
“Laughter is a mechanism everyone has; laughter is part of the universal human vocabulary. There are thousands of languages, hundreds of thousands of dialects, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way,” says Robert R. Provine, PhD. “It is not a learned group reaction but an instinctive behavior programmed by our genes.”
This is why babies will laugh long before they begin to speak, and children born deaf and blind are able to laugh.
Laughter, although possible when alone, is more commonly seen when in the company of other people. In fact, group laughter can induce a more joyful experience and deeper laughs than would be possible alone. So laughter brings people together and it can be contagious.
Studies have been done on why we laugh, how we laugh, what part of the brain is activated when we laugh, and how laughing differs throughout the world. Does it have health benefits? Laughter itself can be quite physical. Repetitive hard laughing can feel like exercise, increasing body temperature and leaving us gasping for breath. That’s because laughing activates the sympathetic nervous system, which increases blood pressure and heart rate.
While it sounds stressful, most would agree laughing feels good. In fact, some studies have shown that laughter can decrease stress levels. In addition to decreasing pain, anxiety and depression, it can help improve anger management and our overall outlook on life. Even though laughter has been shown to be a spontaneous emotional release, fake laughter can easily turn into real laughter, which helps explain the effectiveness of laughter therapies such as Laughter Yoga and Laughter Coaching.