Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

Laughter Is the Best Medicine – and It’s Contagious

Simone Jonker worked in NTD Inspired for two years. She wrote light articles and inspiring stories.
Published: February 3, 2022
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Little girl laughs with excitement as she plays in a water fountain in France. One could say laughter is a beneficial contagion. (Image: Basile Morin via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Laughter is a universal language. We begin to laugh long before we speak. Two of the growing and developing milestones that parents look forward to are their baby’s first smile and their first verbal laughter. It brings us together and brightens our day. As Victor Borge wrote, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.”

Laughter is also a natural stress reliever. A sense of humor is good for your mental health, and that of those around you. The sight and sound of joyous laughter, especially that of a baby, can lift the spirits of anyone who is feeling down or lonely.

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.”

J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan 

Why is laughter contagious? 

Laughter, like yawning, is incredibly contagious. Upon hearing someone else laugh, it is hard to resist joining in. What is it about laughter that is so contagious?  Moreover, even when we don’t find a joke funny, why do we still laugh with others? 

The Tanganyika laughter epidemic is a famous example of contagious laughter.  In 1962, three girls in a boarding school in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) started laughing, and soon the whole institution was laughing. It eventually impacted 95 of 159 students seriously enough to close the school. When the school reopened, 50 students were again affected, and it even spread to a nearby community.

It has been shown that some empathic, sociable, and imitative behaviors are associated with particular brain cells known as “Mirror neurons,” which are found in the premotor cortex. The objective of the mirror neuron is to reflect the activity that we are viewing. We have mirror neurons in our brains, and they are responsible for things like making us yawn when we watch someone else do it, or when we find ourselves emulating the actions of those closest to us without fully understanding why.

As social beings, laughter serves to connect us. There is a sphere of energy that links us all. In his renowned book. ‘Morphic Resonance,’ by Rupert Sheldrake Ph.D., proposes that each person inherits and contributes to the collective memory of the species, impacting future generations. So when one person laughs, we all laugh, because our emotions are connected. Laughter is an ancient form of bonding energy. 

Mirror neurons are also involved with the formation of language. The premotor cortex in the frontal lobe area of the brain determines how one responds to visual and audio inputs. This area also controls the facial muscles’ responses to specific noises. 

The brain activity of volunteers was measured by researchers at University College London as they played various sounds to them. Positive noises like laughter and the sound of elation elicited the highest reactions, whereas negative sounds like shrieking or retching elicited the lowest, demonstrating that laughter is more attractive to humans than negative tones. This helps to explain why we spontaneously smile when we witness someone else laughing. 

The benefits of laughter

Amazing things happen when you laugh. It raises levels of feel-good chemicals like endorphins. Laughter boosts the amount of antibody-producing cells and the efficiency of T cells. So that means a stronger immune system. Negative thoughts cause chemical responses in the body that increase stress and lower immunity. A good laugh can lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress response. Laughter may relieve pain by triggering the body’s natural painkillers.

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Laughter brings us closer together and improves our well being. (Image: Pavel Danilyuk via Pexels)

Whether we recognize a situation as a threat or a challenge, our attitude can alter our reaction to stressful circumstances. When we are able to laugh at ourselves, we see things in a more positive light and can view them as challenges rather than threats. When one can find a way to laugh at oneself, anxieties will naturally begin to vanish.

The results of a  2011 study published in Time magazine, found that persons who laughed the most at funhouse mirror representations of themselves exhibited “fewer signs of fake smiles or negative emotion.” Author Ursula Beermann, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Innsbruck’s Institute of Psychology, believes that being able or inclined to not take oneself too seriously might also suggest you’re ready to “acknowledge that you are not the center of the universe.”

The more lighthearted and humorous you are, the better it is for you and easier for others around you to be joyful. Approach life with a sense of humor, and you’ll find yourself less affected by bad things. 

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Like smiles and compassion, most people find that laughter is contagious. This means that by increasing your own level of happiness, you share the wealth with those around you.

Fake it until you make it

Laughter is medicine. Try it out. Smile, then laugh, even if it’s a little overdone. Afterward, assess your mood. Is your body less tense? How do you feel now? You will discover that laughing is a natural wonder in action. The physical advantages of ‘pretend’ laughter as opposed to genuine laughter are identical, and the former frequently leads to the latter. You’ll still get great results, and the simulated merriment may lead to genuine smiles and laughter.