Laughing feels good. It also serves various social purposes, for example, it promotes closeness in a group or can serve to release a tense atmosphere. But apart from these short-term effects, humans also seem to profit from laughing on the long term. Laughing makes us happier.
A recent study by Robin Dunbar from the University of Oxford and his colleagues now sheds light into the mechanism that links laughing to being happy. They had their study participants watch different videos: funny ones, neutral ones, or positive but unfunny ones. Afterwards, they tested participants’ pain resistance using a frozen wine sleeve or a blood pressure cuff. They found the participants who had watched the funny videos to be more pain resistant than the participants in the other two groups. Pain resistance is often used as a proxy for endorphin release because the neurotransmitter itself is not detectable in people’s blood as it does not pass the blood-brain barrier. The release of endorphin is, according to Dr. Dunbar, triggered by the muscle contractions that are produced when we laugh.
The original study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: B.
There is an outline of the study in the New York Times.
So apparently laughing makes us happier. And not only that. It has a positive impact on the sensation of pain. The mechanism behind it seems to be similar to the one that mediates the connection between exercise and happiness: physical activity leads to the release of endorphins, which make us happy and pain-resistant. Have a good laugh with friends and be happy!