Few things are as wonderful as a good belly laugh--the kind where tears stream down the face and the stomach aches from laughing too hard.
Yet if you stop to think about it, laughter is an odd response to a situation. It happens so naturally that we don’t question it, but we make bizarre sounds--chortle, cackle, guffaw, giggle, howl--when we find something hilarious.
We are also one of the few animals that responds with laughter. Laughter has been documented in primates, and perhaps rats, so it’s possible that other mammals laugh, but the verdict is still out.
While we think of laughter as a response to a humorous situation--and it is--it is also used as a social tool, a way to communicate and bond with others. Babies enter the world crying, and their next form of communication is to smile and laugh--winning over exhausted parents everywhere.
The old adage "laughter is the best medicine" is something even young children inherently understand. Kids see tears or sadness, and their automatic response is to make that person laugh, making silly faces or falling down--anything to stop the tears and elicit a chuckle.
We have thousands of spoken languages in our world, and even when we can't understand the speech of another, laughter and tears are a clear form of communication. They are a universal language.
When someone has a stroke and loses the ability to talk, they are still able to converse through tears and laughter. Those two forms of communication are considered “basic” emotions and are controlled by our “older” brain system--the “animal” part of our brain responsible for sounds but not speech.
So why do we laugh? And what happens in our bodies when we laugh? If you want the science of it, Business Insider produced a short video explaining it all.
Essentially, laughter triggers responses in multiple parts of our brains and our bodies...just to produce the simple, basic response of laughter! Researchers estimate we laugh anywhere from 10 to 17 times a day, and each time we do, we boost our heart rate, increase the production of antibodies, and send endorphins rushing through our body.
There is also mounting evidence that laughter can help reduce depression, relieve pain, and lower the natural stress response of our body by releasing endorphins. Most importantly, laughing just feels good.
We all need more laughter in our lives. The more we surround ourselves with those who make us laugh, the more we can share the gift of laughter with others. Joy is contagious, and laughter is one of the many vehicles to a joyful existence.
So what makes YOU laugh? And how might you incorporate more laughter into your life?
*Photos by Mary Wyar Photography.