Is laughter good for your health?

Just a hilarious guy.

I was watching a horror movie the other night, and naturally I started laughing. I laugh a lot, sometimes when it’s appropriate, often when it’s not. It often feels therapeutic to laugh. Laughter relieves stress and allows us to cope with life’s horrors. So, I wondered, from a medical standpoint, if laughter was actually beneficial. Does laughter actually make you healthier by helping your body fight disease and cope with illness? I decided to take a look at a few studies to find out.


The conductor of the single blind study.

The first study was small. It focused on 37 patients suffering from breast cancer who were being treated with radiotherapy. In this single-blind control study, 19 patients were placed in a control group, while the remaining 18 were treated with laughter therapy in addition to radiotherapy. The hypothesis being tested was that laughter therapy would reduce the radiation dermatitis that plagued those suffering from breast cancer. The results rejected the null, accepting that laughter therapy reduced the incidence of grades 3 and 2 radiation dermatitis, but not 1 and 0. It also concluded that while more people in the experimental group experienced less severe pain, the results were not statistically significant. The researchers insisted that more research needed to be done to confirm their results that laughter therapy was effective.


A visual representation of Data.

I agreed with this conclusion. The study is small. It’s not enough data to decisively conclude anything meaningful, but it does point in the right direction. Laughter, in one form or another, may be a valid form of treatment for something as terrible as breast cancer, at least in a way. I’m also not shocked that laughter would need to work in tangent with “real” medicine to yield results. I’d be surprised if any study found laughter alone could cure cancer, or any other disease, alone. As this study pointed out I’d need more data to come to a satisfying answer.

To find my satisfying answer, I turned to a meta-analysis. Using narrative synthesis, researchers searched Medline (which contains papers published since 1946) and Embase (which contains papers published since 1974) for papers regarding the effects of laughter in humans. They divided the results into two categories: positive and negative effects. They found laughter relieved stress, reduced depression and anxiety, improved lung function, and reduced risk of myocardial infarction. It also caused some serious problems like cardiac ruptures, abdominal hernias, asthma attacks, headaches, jaw dislocation, and interlobular emphysema. The study also found that laughter can be caused by conditions like epilepsy, strokes, and multiple sclerosis. In all I found this analysis to be very informative.


Laughter: not always good.

A lot the results are common sense. Laughter, on a basic level, is quickly forcing air out of your mouth and nose. Improvements in lung function, increases in asthma attacks, and jaw dislocation all make logical sense given what laughter is. I was satisfied with the research done by this studied and found it to be informative. When I set out to learn more about the effects of laughter, I hadn’t considered the possible negative consequences. All I had considered is laughter would simply not help us get better. Based on the results of the first study, I’d say that helping us get better is well within the realm of possibility, but in looking at the results of this analysis, I must conclude that laughter can be as helpful as it is harmful. Like a drug, laughter can be dangerous. For small gains in lung function and reduced anxiety, there are cardiac ruptures and jaw dislocation. Indeed, I have concluded that laughter is a medicine with many positive side effects, but also many negative ones. It is a medicine, but laughter is far from the best medicine.


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5 thoughts on “Is laughter good for your health?

  1. Alexander Nicholas Cautela

    I have very strange laughing tendencies. Some of the weird things I laugh at: really good music, attractive women, attractive women I dislike, and people I dislike. I also laugh when I think of how proud I am to be myself. These data tell me that laughter is not simply used to express humor or amusement; laughter can also be a coping mechanism. Laughter makes me feel like a strong person. Laughing at things makes me feel good about myself. Whenever I get down, I usually find something bizarre to laugh at. Often I find I use laughter as an expression of anger or hatred, which seems like a healthy way to deal with such strong feelings.
    It seems like all the negative effects of laughter would concern only cancer patients. I doubt that cardiac ruptures, abdominal hernias, asthma attacks, headaches, jaw dislocation, and interlobular emphysema should be reasons for healthy people to modify their laughing tendencies.

    1. Olivia Helen DeArment

      This is an interesting topic because everyone laughs, but at varied things. Whether one has a dry human, laughs at their own jokes, crude humor, you name it, everyone has a reason to laugh every once in awhile. Some laugh when they are uncomfortable, which brightens the mood a little bit, sometimes making things less awkward perhaps, and this could be mild coping mechanism. For me personally, when I am going through a rough time or if i’m sad or mad, I try to look at things that are funny or convince my friends to tell me a joke. This usually cheers my mood a little bit and at least short term. I think honestly it depends on the individual and their circumstance, how willing they are for mood changes or coping, and how easy it is to make someone laugh. For serious long term diseases, I can understand the negative affects there, but realistically laughing is a positive thing and can have a huge impact on feelings and moods. I do have a question involving this topic though; If a laugh is not genuine or forced can it still have the same affects on an individual? Is there such thing as too little or too much laughter for an person or patient? These are just some interesting questions that arose when I was reading this blog.

  2. Margaret Eppinger

    This is a good blog topic because it’s such a universal action–everyone laughs! I agree that the evidence in this post does not seem to be enough to define a clear relationship between laughter and helping with medicine. Laughter is something that I find relieves stress, but I also liked that you mentioned some of the negative impacts as well. While I didn’t know they could be so severe, I have always wondered why my stomach hurts when I laugh too much. At that point, it almost becomes painful. I’d be interested to know why that is. Is there a certain dosage of laughter, so to speak, that would be the most effective medicine? Can we laugh too much? Do the chemicals laughter releases become overwhelming to our bodies in large doses? These are experiments I would be interested to see in order to continue this scientific discussion.

  3. Grace Anne Walker

    I loved how you approached laughter in several different ways. I am someone who laughs in the worst situations so I understand how you feel. I agreed with the study’s conclusion that you would need further analysis to come to a conclusion. I also loved how the study tested is laughter could actually heal a cancer patient. This blog has a great look on laughter and the natural affects of it!

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