Laughter, to me, is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s no secret that laughter has amazing mood boosting and social advantages. A laugh can bring people together and has the ability to brighten even the gloomiest of moods. But why else do humans laugh? I mean laughter is a characteristic that we share only with other great apes such as chimpanzees and gorillas. Is laughter some sort of biological adaptation that gives humans some sort of evolutionary advantage? Could it be possible that laughter provided us with health benefits?
I’ve always heard the phrase “laughter is the best medicine”, but I never put much thought into it until now. I decided to do some research and see if laughter really does improve our health in one-way or another. It turns out that there are multiple hypothesis about the heath benefits of laughter. For example, researchers believe that laughter can boost your immune system and temporarily relieve pain by decreasing stress hormones and releasing endorphins in the brain. They also believe that laughter can protect you from cardiovascular diseases by increasing blood flow. While all of these hypotheses sound pretty convincing, I found that a lot of the studies done on the health benefits of laughter have been very subjective rather than evidence based. It turns out that studying laughter isn’t taken too seriously in the world of research. However, Michael Miller, the director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, decided to dig a littler deeper into the effects of laughter on the heart.
In his study, he asked 300 people to answer a questionnaire and then compared their responses. 150 of the subjects were completely healthy while the other half had some form of cardiovascular condition. The questionnaire included a series of multiple-choice questions to find out how much or how little the subjects laughed in different situations. This was followed by a true or false questionnaire to measure anger and hostility. The results revealed that the subjects with cardiovascular issues “responded less humorously to everyday situations.” They laughed 40% less and showed more anger and hostility even in positive situations.
Miller’s study was the first to indicate that laughing could have a positive impact on the health of your heart. But just like most of the other studies done on the effects of laughter, his study did not pinpoint specifically how laughter was able to help prevent cardiovascular diseases. First off, his method of study left a lot up to chance. A questionnaire or survey is not the best way to collect accurate data. Subjects could provide false information or might not fully understand the questions being asked. This could lead to a miscalculation of information. Also, his study didn’t rule out the possibility of other factors influencing whether or not his subjects had heart disease. Who is to say that the cardiovascular disease found in his subjects wasn’t caused by genetics or an unhealthy lifestyle? Although the results show that there potentially could be a connection between laughing and a healthier heart, it does not have enough evidence to show a clear correlation.
Miller didn’t stop though. He conducted another study in 2005 to eliminate any uncertainty that his first study might have had. In this study Miller used laughter provoking movies to measure the effect of laughter on cardiovascular health. He included 20 healthy volunteers, 10 men and 10 women. The subjects had normal blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Each volunteer was asked to watch two videos that represented the extremes of the emotional spectrum. One was to cause mental stress and the other was to cause laughter. They were shown each video 48 hours apart. Before watching the videos the volunteers were given a baseline blood vessel reactivity test in order for Miller to measure what is known as flow-mediated vasodilation. The results showed an increase in blood flow in 19 out of 20 volunteers after laughing at the funny video. This suggested that laughter had an impact on blood flow that could positively affect our heart. The results of this study were objective and precise, but he was still unable to find the source of laughter’s benefit.
This leads me to believe that there potentially is a connection between laughter and our health. After doing this research I definitely think there could be a correlation, but more studies need to be done in order to pinpoint the direct link. I guess for now we can say “laughter might be the best medicine.” But we should continue to laugh regardless. Even if there is no concrete proof that laughter improves health, it still serves an important social element that creates strong connections and happy people.