“Tape the sound of friends laughing together. Save it for a rainy day.” — Yoko Ono
I was hanging out before yoga class last weekend with my friend Betty and, as we often do, we were laughing. We almost always find something to laugh about when we are together , except this one time we ran out of water with 11 miles left on a long run on the hottest day of the year, but that’s another story. Anyway, as we laughed another student walked by and said with a smile, “It’s nice to hear giggling first thing in the morning.”
Later I was thinking about how often laughter makes us happy, even if it’s someone else’s. We see a baby learning to laugh and it makes us smile. We hear some kids laughing on the playground, and we might smile along. Or we walk by two friends chuckling over something and appreciate their moment of happiness. It’s hard not to smile when you are in the presence of joyful laughter.
It’s a no brainer that laughter makes us feel better when we are the ones laughing. Laughter, like so many things, releases endorphins and reduces stress. Laughter triggers a relaxation response in your nervous system. We feel better when we laugh, unless it’s that fake “I’m about to freak out” laugh some of us do under stress. However, laughter is such a huge stress reliever that even faking a laugh can have beneficial impacts.
But why do we feel better when other people laugh?
Hearing laughter, even when you have no idea what prompted it, can help shift your perspective. If you’re having a bad day, even hearing the laughter of others can remind you that there are good things in life. Maybe the woman in yoga class hearing me and Betty laughing helped her to remember times she’s laughed with her friends, and it made her happy for a moment. Or maybe just the sound of our giggling, as she called it, made her happy on its own.
Observing laughter brings you closer to others, because it’s a shared experience. We all have laughed, even if some of us don’t do it frequently.
Hearing genuine laughter is like seeing a baby or a puppy — it can melt even the hardest heart.
And laughter can be contagious, kind of like yawning, but more beneficial. Being around people who seem happy can make you feel happier, even if by association. Many of the stress relieving properties of laughter apply regardless of whether you know what the laughter is about.
Have you ever had the experience where a friend or family member is laughing so hysterically that they can’t catch their breath to tell you what’s so funny and then you start laughing too, because their laughter is funny and contagious? Brain scans show that simply hearing laughter triggers your brain to relax, and prepares your facial muscles to respond in kind by smiling. Those benefits can last 30 minutes or longer.
Laugher is most often a social response. You are 30 times more likely to laugh around others than when you are alone. Being around laughter reminds you that we are all connected, and have shared experiences.
And the positive effects of laughter are magnified if you also participate in the laughter. So in the immortal words of Han Solo, “Laugh it up, Fuzzball.”
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