The Value of Laughter

By: Chris Putman | Category: Recreation/Leisure | Issue: April 2021

Adults do this about 17 times per day.  Children do it a whopping 300 times or more per day.  What is it that children are doing that is outperforming adults so much more inexhaustibly?  Laughing.

It’s true, actual research takes place on the frequency and value of laughter.  There is even an organization that studies the effects of laughter titled the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.  In an article titled, “Do Children Laugh Much More Often than Adults Do?” by Rod A. Martin at https://aath.memberclicks.net/do-children-laugh-much-more-often-than-adults-do, the writer uncovers adult patterns of behavior that folks will laugh at themselves much more often than at others.  It seems when speakers dialogue, they follow what they have said – never in the middle of what they are saying – with a bout of laughter.  In contrast, listeners often laugh while their partner in conversation is still speaking.  It was also uncovered the frequency of laughter does not change when adults are talking with a stranger or a close friend.  Surprisingly, it scores the same.

Here’s another interesting fact; the provocation that spurred the laughter changes with age.  Children laugh more in response to nonverbals such as silly movements or funny face making.  Older children laugh more due to verbal humor such as jokes or funny stories.  Across the age groups, the laughter response was triggered more often in behavior that was intentionally trying to evoke the laughter response.  Data also indicated that children would laugh at their own behaviors that were meant to be taken as funny than at others’ funny behaviors.  This appears to be a signal sent to let others know it is OK to laugh that the funny actions were intentional.

So that’s the innate laughing behavior, but what about the health benefits of the activity.  The Healthy Lifestyles Stress Management web page by Mayo Clinic Staff states the short-term benefits of laughter.  When laughing, people suck in air which has a positive effect on the heart, lungs, muscles and even increases the endorphins in the brain.  Likewise, it can affect stress responses that ultimately decreases heart rate and blood pressure.  It also stimulates circulation, which helps muscles to relax.  So, the good book is right.  “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” Proverbs 17:22.

KXOJ Afternoon DJ and Production Director for Stephens Media and stand-up comedian Gary Thompson.

KXOJ Afternoon DJ and Production Director for Stephens Media and stand-up comedian Gary Thompson.

Similarly, long-term effects are impacted.  While individuals mull over their troubles, it triggers chemicals that negatively affect the immune system making them more susceptible to illness and disease.  When individuals think on positive thoughts, however, it can activate a group of compounds that act as neurotransmitters that fight stress and life-threatening diseases.  More so, laughter can release natural painkillers.  It can also improve someone’s overall outlook by lightening their mood and shift their frame of mind to more positive thoughts according to the Mayo Clinic’s website found at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456.

Since there are so many physical and mental health benefits that are derived from laughing, why not develop that sense of humor?  Being intentional about increasing the laughter in life can be done.  Here are a few tips to get that started:

Read comic strips. 

Read a humorous book.

Watch a funny movie or TV series. If that is a rerun experience, not a problem. The laughter is triggered anyway. 

Watch a comedian on DVD
or online.

Visit a comedy club.

Ever hear of laughter yoga?  Don’t laugh (pun intended).  It’s a thing.  People attend a laughter group or class, and it starts with a forced laughter.  But, sure enough, once surrounded by people in stitches, these students just can’t help it; they get tickled at each other and suddenly the belly laughs are real and often uncontrollable. 

Laughter Yoga International on the Laughter Yoga University website at  https://laughteryoga.org/ has many laughter resources that will put a smile on anyone’s face.  Yoga breathing practices known as Pranayama are combined with laughter exercises.  It turns out there are over 20,000 social laughter clubs in 110 countries. 

There is a free online laughter club with Zoom sessions held several times per week at https://laughteryoga.org/zoom-laughter-club/.  And to top that, there is even a Bollywood Laughter Yoga Dance as a fitness program.

Laughter Yoga is a popular activity in senior care facilities.  Burgundy Place Program Coordinator Sonya Pratt subscribes to the benefits of laughter yoga and involves elderly residents.  It’s a crackup to watch.

“Somewhere along the way, many of us abandoned our playful, childlike nature in favor of adult responsibilities,” Pratt said.  “Did someone make a rule that adults can’t be silly anymore?  Some people are very hesitant to try laughter yoga, but genuine laughter is contagious and even the skeptics wind up laughing and having a good time. I was so proud of the residents for trying something so unconventional and, frankly, silly.”

Pratt was treated to a sample session and immediately knew that it was a perfect activity for the seniors in her community.  She is tickled to know that laughter truly is the best medicine and that the heart rate increase caused by one minute of continuous, hearty laughter can take up to 10 minutes to achieve on exercise equipment.

“I love getting to share this experience with seniors,” Pratt said.  “You haven’t lived until you have done Laughter Yoga with a 100-year old!”

There is one line of work that their job is to get the hysterics going, the comedian.  One Tulsa-based comic performs at local comedy clubs and churches.  KXOJ Afternoon DJ and Production Director for Stephens Media and stand-up comedian Gary Thompson takes his jokes seriously, and it all started when he was just a toddler.

“The callings of God are irrevocable,” Thompson said.  “I’ve felt this since I was two. My mother says I was obsessed with comedians from that age. She came into the TV room when I was 2, and I was watching a comic. I said ‘They’re laughing at him.’ She said ‘Yes. That’s his job. To make them laugh.’ She says I said, ‘I want to be a comedian.’”

Following that dream, Thompson feels every routine is an honor and their reaction means the world to him.  He says the laughter means he is seen, has been heard and that he matters.  He relies on the audience’s feedback to keep him going.  After the show, he hears comments like how they came to the performance with a heavy burden they just needed to forget even if only for the night and that he helped them to do that.  Those words to him are priceless.

There is a difference in Thompson that sets him apart from all the others, his material is clean as a whistle.

“If you work clean, you work anywhere,” Thompson said.  “And it takes more skill to be clean AND funny.  It bolsters my self-respect to be funnier than a dirty comic who goes for the easy laugh.”


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Laughter

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