Laughter has evolved over the years. In fact, researchers have recently plotted the evolutionary trajectory of laughter over the last seven million years. Laughing, they believe, may have evolved from apes “play-panting” two or four million years ago in response to things that happened around them. Then around two million years ago, our ancestors began using facial expressions to communicate feelings or ideas, such as embarrasment or ridicule. Thanks to them, we can now voluntarily access our humour programme whenever we need to.
Laughter improves our physical well-being. I’m sure you don’t need to be made aware of the countless studies showing that people who laugh more live longer and feel better throughout the course of their lives. The increase in our pain threshold during and after bouts of laughter has also been confirmed in many studies. Besides triggering the release of endorphins (the body’s natural pain killer), laughter also removes stress hormones and boosts our immune function by raising T-cell levels, disease-fighting protiens called Gamma-interferon, and B-cells, which produce antibodies that destroy disease. Laughter is also a solid cariovascular workout: it increases our heart’s activity, stimulates our circulation, and, afterwards, helps out bodies relax.
Similarly, 20 seconds of good, hard belly laughter has been found to be equivalent to three minutes on the rowing machine. In laughter yoga, students spend about 30 minutes chanting “ho ho, ha ha ha”, giggling self-consciously and belly laughing. Laughter yoga has been shown to reduce stress, enhance the immune system, strengthen cardiovascular functions, improve ciculation and the respiratory system (oh, and tone muscles too).
Studies show that humour is one common denominator among people with good coping skills and a high degree of life satisfaction. Students also learn more from humorous teachers. And employees who work for a funny boss or one with a good sense of humour enjoy their jobs more.
Sources: Johnston, J. (2009) The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Psychology, New York: Penguin Group (USA).