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Why Do We Love To Laugh?

Updated Tuesday, 9th August 2005

Stand up comedienne Jenny Éclair says she was ‘born to make people laugh’. These days, as one of Britain’s best known comedy actresses she’s an expert on what makes us laugh – but she’s always wondered why we laugh - Ever Wondered sent her to find out if laughter really is the best medicine

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Jenny Eclair

First stop – Jenny’s local gym. What are the physical benefits of a good laugh? Jenny meets up with GP Dr Andrew Cull to find out.

Dr Andrew Cull Dr Andrew Cull has run a general practice for fifteen years. Having seen thousands of patients with varying complaints, he realises the benefits of laughter for patients both mentally and physically. This is one piece of medical advice he's willing to hand out!

Jenny: Can you giggle yourself fit, is laughter good for the body?

Dr Cull: Laughter is certainly a recommended tonic for getting you fit. It increases heart rate and respiratory rate and some people think that if you laugh a hundred belly laughs a day you get very, very fit! Laughter can also improve your breathing. The more intense and regular the laugh, the more Oxygen flows around your body and the more Carbon Dioxide is released.

Jenny at the gym Jenny: This time tomorrow I’m going to be in agony, is there anything I can do to relieve my pain?

Dr Cull: Laughter can also be very good at relieving chronic body pain associated with cancer and arthritis. This is due to the fact that regular laughter releases special chemicals such as endorphins and encephalins. These are great mood elevators as they raise the pain threshold which makes people more comfortable. But it doesn’t stop there - laughter can also combat infections created by stress. This is achieved by the release of immunoglobulin, a protein that kills germs and promotes white cells which destroy infection.

So laughter has many physical benefits. But what does it do for the mind and the soul? Next stop the psychologist’s chair….Jenny bares her soul to Dr Mike Lowis!

Dr Mike Lowis is a psychology tutor with the University of Northampton. His areas of interest include programmes on using creativity and humour as an aid to coping with stress.

Jenny with Dr Mike Lowis Jenny: Why do we have a sense of humour?

Dr Lowis: Laughter is important to help us survive. When things happen in the world which are unkind, unfair and unjust, its difficult to make sense of them - one way of coping is to look at the situation with a sense of humour rather than logic.

Jenny: What are the benefits of humour socially?

Dr Lowis: Humour is a social lubricant. It can help you get through very difficult times just by relaxing you, which can relieve an awkward situation. But this does depend on what sort of a joke you crack! Laughter can also cement people together either by laughing at another group or laughing at themselves.

How to put this science into practice? Last stop for Jenny – a laughter clinic with laughter therapist Ben Renshaw.

Jenny: Is laughter useful as therapy? Ben Renshaw

Ben Renshaw: Some people in therapy think that those that laugh are in denial, but It’s OK to laugh even when it’s at a traumatic moment. It’s a philosophy, encouraging people to be authentic, to be yourself. So to create that happiness choose to focus on what is good and makes you joyful.

Ben Renshaw works as a trainer for The Happiness Project coaching on success, happiness and relationships

Would you like to find out more about how laughter and your other emotions work? Here are just some suggestions to help you find out more: Jenny at laughter therapy

Books you can read
’Emotion: A Psychoevolutionary Synthesis.’ Robert Plutchik. Harper and Row, 1980.
’Emotion in the Human Face.’ Second edition. Edited by Paul Ekman. Cambridge University Press, 1982.

‘Humour and Laughter: An Anthropological Approach.’ Apte, M. L. Cornell University Press, 1985

‘It’s a Funny Thing, Humour.’ Chapman, A. J./H. C. Foot. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1977

Links You Can Surf
Search here for more information on Dr Mike Lowis and his work at The University College of Northampton
The British Psychological Society - contains information about the study of psychology

The International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Also on the Ever Wondered site: You can join Simon Callow to find out why music makes you tingle or drop in on psychologist Tim Dalgleish’s thoughts on why we have emotions

If you think you might be interested in studying more about these subjects, find out what the Open University has to offer.


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