It feels good to laugh. Early humans laughed long before they could talk. Beyond the feeling of goodness, it actually helps your health.
It gives you a natural high, lighting the reward centre of your brain and releases those feel-good chemicals—endorphins and dopamine. These are the same chemicals that trigger the high people get from drugs.
You don’t always have to laugh to jokes or humour. People laugh even when there’s nothing funny. Research suggests we use laughter to connect with others or show understanding. And you are 30 times more likely to laugh when you are with others than when you are solo.
Laughter is a form of exercise. Just 10 minutes of it can burn up to 40 calories. And it raises your heart rate up to 20%. If you laughed 15 minutes a day, you could laugh off nearly 2 kilos of excess weight a year.
The endorphins laughter releases latch onto receptors in your blood vessel. This triggers them to release nitric oxide, which loosens up your arteries. Relaxed arteries are more flexible and wider, so blood flows freely.
In addition to helping your heart, laughter can ease pain. The endorphins released in laughter help deal with pain better.
And it helps your mental health, too. Research shows that a good chuckle may lower stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and raise serotonin — a brain chemical that helps fight depression.
Just like a disease, laughter is contagious. Humans may have a built-in laugh detector—a brain circuit that responds to the sound of laughter. Once you hear it, your laugh generator is kickstarted, and you get the giggles too.
One note though. Uncontrollable laughter can be a problem for people who have some medical condition like multiple sclerosis. Certain disorders related to the nervous system can affect how your brain controls emotions. It is a condition called pseudobulbar affect (PBA). People with it may burst out crying or laughing for no reason. Medication can help.