Laughter Is About Being Human: And It’s Healthy


The ability to laugh is an integral part of being human. There are very few other species that are believed to have the capability of producing a vocal sound at a similar frequency and with the same emotion as human laughter. But why do we laugh?

Robert R. Provine, a neuroscientist and psychology professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, tracked and observed instances of real laughter for his 2001 book, Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. He and his team recorded more than a thousand episodes of laughter observed in real-world social settings such as parties and restaurant gatherings.

His analysis found that less than 20% of those incidents were about something that could be objectively considered humorous; most related to something that seemed neutral, to others … you had to be there.

For the same book, Provine also had student volunteers note every time they laughed and why. He found they were 30 times more likely to laugh while with others than when they were alone. To paraphrase an old adage, it seems that funny—every bit as much as misery—loves company.

What might be more important is not why we laugh, but the effects of laughing. The phrase “laughter is the best medicine” isn’t just another adage. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter holds both short-term and long-term benefits. Short-term effects include organ stimulation plus stress and tension relief.

In the long haul, regular laughter may also improve your immune system by increasing positive thoughts that release stress-fighting neuropeptides. And it may improve your mood, boost your coping abilities, and even relieve pain.

Want to reap the benefits? Spend time in the company of funny friends. Add some stand-up comedy to your Netflix list. Try to find humor in everyday situations, good or bad. And if something truly is funny, join in and laugh without holding back.