Can Laughter be Therapeutic?
Whether we giggle, chortle, chuckle, guffaw or “lol,” everyone laughs. Smiling, a natural part of laughing, is a universal indication of happiness or pleasure across all cultures, according to psychologist Paul Ekman. When we smile, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of happiness. Interestingly enough, this effect works both ways: the release of dopamine when we feel happy causes us to smile, and the mere act of smiling causes the brain to release dopa-mine, which in turn makes us feel happy.
The results of many scientific studies on the effects of laughter have led most experts to agree that laughter can be remarkably therapeutic. For example, laughter and humor have been shown to increase tolerance to pain. Additionally, researchers in Japan have found that laughter lowered blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes by altering gene expression. Even more exciting are the findings on the cardiovascular benefits of mirthful laughter. In a recent study by researchers at the University of Maryland, researchers found that endorphins released by the brain in response to laughter cause the production of nitric oxide (NO), which then triggers a number of cardio-protective signaling processes responsible for not only vasodilation but also for reducing platelet aggregation and vascular inflammation. Laughter furthermore has been shown to have positive effects on the immune system. Professor Lee Berk from Loma Linda University reported that laughter increased the activity of several critical antibodies and natural killer cells, which are essential in anti-tumor defense. These studies represent only a small subset of the scientific literature attesting to the positive benefits of laughter. So laugh on, Yale!