Everyone loves to laugh. It is clear that people reflect positively on memories in which they laughed a lot; memories characterized by laughter are widely regarded as ‘fun’. It is easily accepted and widely held that people have more fun at an event where they laugh (a comedy show) than a one where they do not (a lecture) even though these are both events in which the audience sits in a group and someone speaks to them.
This example seems obvious, I know, but the point is – people universally draw enjoyment out of laughing. Laughter is a universal language. This outward manifestation of pleasure, happiness, humor, or excitement is the same in every language.
For example, I read about how writers for BBC traveled to South Africa, and the only thing that the locals could identify with was their laughter. Other emotions, like pride, triumph, which surely are felt by all cultures, were not expressed the same.
As such, laughing is largely about nature rather than nurture – everyone naturally laughs.
Some people laugh more than others, different people laugh at different things, we know this is true. But everyone laughs. One study estimated that people on average laugh seven times in every ten minutes of social interaction. Pinpointing exactly what makes people laugh is the hard part. Every one, at some point or another, has though to themselves what might make their friends laugh. What joke, witty line, one-liner or quip will make someone laugh? The answer is not universal (everyone has a different sense of humor) but the answer is also far less intuitive than you think.
Robert Provine from Psychology Today and three undergraduate students examined just what it is that makes people laugh. They observed 1200 naturally occurring laughs, presumably, from standing in populated areas and overhearing conversations, and noted who the speaker was, who they were speaking to, who laughed, and what was said.
For one, Provine and his students noted almost 50% of the time, it was the speaker laughing more than their audience (humans have a way of amusing themselves) They also noticed that laughter was often preceded by rather commonplace comments rather than jokes or wisecracks. Lastly, no more than one in five laughs came from something actually comical.
There are three traditional theories that scientists have identified as things that people find humorous. The incongruity theory proposes that people find it funny when the conventional is replaced by the unexpected, which are popularly known as anti-jokes. The superiority theory refers to jokes that make fun of people, while the relief theory refers to when someone makes a comment that offers comedic relief at an intense or suspenseful time.
Lastly, and most important, laughing is healthy. helpguide.org reports that laughing helps you relax and relieve stress, but even more so, can help you prevent heart diseases. Further, laughing has even more health benefits such as working your abs, releasing endorphins, and boosting T-cells. T cells are cells in your immune system that help you fight illness. They are in our body, simply waiting for activation, and when we let our a good hearty laugh, they are released.
Not only does smiling help us feel good psychologically, it can actually help us stay healthy! Now you know 🙂