Laughter: The Bug You Want to Catch

Laughter is good for your health

By Angela Noel

January 31, 2018

I recently began running up forty-five flights of stairs once or twice a week. It’s not all at once of course. It’s nine floors of stairs I run up and then walk down, five times. That’s over 1,000 stairs. When I reach the top I’m breathing like a banshee and wishing the way down was at least twice as long as the way up. It’s hard. The last thing I want to do is laugh while I’m torturing myself in this way. But it turns out, that’s exactly what I should be doing.

Laughter, a study at Georgia State found, improves health outcomes in older adults. One of the authors of the study, Dr. Jennifer Craft Morgan, points out,“The older adult angle is what we were really interested in, but there’s no reason to think that it wouldn’t have the same positive effects on younger people than it did on older people. Activity is a problem at all ages and laughter and exercise has benefits for all ages.” Laughter isn’t just a benefit when working out, it’s also a powerful social tool–like a rum and coke, but without the sugar and poor decision-making. 

Laughter is Contagious

When others laugh, studies show, our faces twitch and contort almost without our knowledge or consent. Laughter is physiologically contagious–a bug our bodies want us to catch. Our brains begin a complicated process of interpreting the sounds as positive and trigger muscle responses in the face. Even if we don’t get the joke, just because others are laughing our faces want to smile and laugh too. It’s pro-social,  increases communal bonds, and indicates safety and comfort among a group.

None of us, when asked what we want in a partner say, “a terrible sense of humor.” No, we want someone we can laugh with. Children benefit from humor as a stress reliever too. One of my son’s favorite adjectives to describe himself is “funny.” He loves it when I laugh at something he does or says. (He loves it so much he often tries the same joke again two minutes later. . . he still has a few things to learn in the comedy department.) The point is, laughter is a gift we give and receive with such pleasure we almost don’t need the science to know its benefits are overwhelmingly positive.

And yet. . .

Laughter is a bug we want to catch
Laughter is physiologically contagious. It’s a bug our bodies want us to catch.
When the Joke isn’t Funny

Comedy gives us the means to speak truth about tough subjects. In Shadows of War: A Social History of Silence in the Twentieth Century, Jay Winter quotes Shakespeare’s King Lear and comments that the court jester has a “transgressive role.” “Comedy,” he writes, “can speak truth to power, and lives to tell the tale another day.”

But, context matters. For example, we can joke with a close friend about the time in college when he barfed in a classroom trash can, but we shouldn’t bring that story up at a work function with our friend’s boss present. Funny does depend on the circumstances. And it depends on the intent.

Comedians say all kinds of shockingly inappropriate things that offend one group or another. But they assume the audience knows what they say in their acts don’t represent their actual beliefs. Still, times change. And comedy must change with it. What we found funny because it seemed to be a harmless bit of nothing, might not be. And that’s when comedians like Jim Jeffries, and Sarah Silverman take a hard look at themselves. When they’re no longer court jesters speaking truth to power, but the friend bringing up the barf story–they (hopefully) change course. The power of laughter should bring us together, not tear us apart.

Laughter is Just Plain Good For Us
All you need is laughing out loud
Yep. Photo by Kah Lok Leong on Unsplash

All this boils down to the following: Laughter is good for us. We should do it as much as we can as a means of connecting with others, dealing with stress, and improving our overall health.

The next time I have to run those silly stairs, I’ll think of my son telling the doctor he wore his school’s logo t-shirt because he wanted to “represent.” Or maybe I’ll recall the time I sat in a conference room chitchatting with my colleagues before a meeting when I unthinkingly said, “Can you die from water in your lungs?” And my then-coworker, now husband deadpanned, “Uh, yeah. It’s called drowning.” Perhaps, I’ll giggle over the latest funny blog post from I’m Sick and So are You, Lutheranliar Looks at Life, Fatty McCupcakes, Hot Mess Memior, Gin and Lemonade, or Actual Conversations with my Husband. Any one of those things and many more might make those stairs less of a curse-worthy torture-fest. Laughter might not make it easier on my knees to climb those steps, but it’s good for both my heart and soul.

Featured Photo (perfectly depicting how I feel after a workout) by Marcus Löfvenberg on Unsplash. 

Your turn: What makes you laugh? When do you need to laugh the most?

Author: Angela Noel

Seeker and promoter of awesome people and ideas.

42 thoughts on “Laughter: The Bug You Want to Catch”

  1. Wow! A talented writer with a generous soul! Thank you so much for the mention. May your stairways ever be easy to conquer and your lungs everlastingly free from water

  2. Thank you so much for including me in such a great group of funny ladies. Humor keeps me going. If I couldn’t laugh at what I’m going through I’d be a goner. And every single one of these women has made me laugh a whole lot.

    1. I hope that if I ever have to deal with a serious illness that my humor keeps me going, too. It already helps me get through a tough day, going through a tough year or two or more would need like a 64oz supersize of humor juice. I’m so glad I have you to share a laugh with. 🙂

  3. Haha I definitely laughed at you questioning if you can die from water in the lungs 😆 I love laughing & laugh as freely as possible (as long as I’m not being insensitive). I was brought up with a very funny family, so laughter & humour is kind of integral to my being. It’s a marvellous bonding tool, probably the best and it is most definitely contagious. My husband & I had hysterics the other day just watching a woman hysterically laughing. We have no idea what she was laughing at, but her having so much fun made us have fun. How wonderful.

    1. It made me smile to read about you and your husband laughing while watching another woman laughing! I swear, laughing is better than chocolate…
      I laughed pretty hard at myself in that “drowning” conversation too. I couldn’t believe I’d said that! And Paul delivered the line so perfectly it was impossible not to crack up (and later, fall in love.)
      Thank you for reading!

    1. I think you could be right! If we laugh every day, maybe it won’t stop the wrinkles but it sure would make them matter less. Everyone can laugh, it’s such an inclusive thing to do. Thank you for reading and adding your thought! I hope you have a day filled with LOLs. 🙂

  4. Laughter really is the best possible thing to catch (way better than catching a yawn!!)

    I love that you shared some of my favourite funny blogs to help everyone get into the giggly mood! <3

    p.s. I am sooo impressed with your stair exercises! Although, does it not kill your knees!?

    1. Hi, Josy! My knees are okay for now. My calves take a beating though. I walk a little funny for a few days afterwards and try to remember to stretch. But, it is important to protect them. I can’t afford a bad back and bad knees.

  5. So true! I work in an alternative school with 80-100 of the most behaviorally challenged students in the district. You could call it the most stressful work environment in my school district. Surprisingly, though, my last position (high school counselor at a medium sized “normal” school) was way more stressful. Why? Because at my current school, the staff knows how to have fun – I literally laugh every day! At my previous school, my coworkers and I rushed around, constantly complaining about our caseload, our stress levels, and all the things that could go wrong. Now, even though the stakes are higher, we all realize that we can’t do more than our best. After that, we just have to laugh!

    1. Ha! That’s definitely how I felt the first time I was recruited to try that particular workout. It’s much more fun with a few people to suffer along with me, that’s for sure. I’m a little addicted to it now–it’s so hard and I feel like I’m gonna die, but I still press on.

    1. Hi! The Super Bowl is on tonight and the best part about it is the “puppy bowl” on Animal Planet. It’s just dogs playing and it’s the highest rated show on the network. No wonder your puppy makes your family laugh! Pets are such an important part of life. Thank you for reading.

  6. Or, you could climb stairs with your son. 🙂 I think kids are the best at getting others to laugh. Just yesterday, my daughter came up to me and exclaimed “I’m famished!” as she put the back of her hand over her forehead, tilted her head back, and closed her eyes. I couldn’t help but to laugh. “Okay, where’d you learn that one?” Ha! Laughter does feel good, and you are completely right, it is catchy! I’m going to try and do more of it today. Kids, I’m hanging out with you! Wonderful post, Angela!

  7. I often get caught out with the most random things that leave me crying with laughter and that no one else “gets”. That’s the best laughter for me, getting to the stage where you can hardly explain why you’re laughing because you’re laughing so hard!

    1. Oh gosh, I really love that too. Just today I realized I had worn two different socks to work today. And though that’s not hilarious, it still gave me a nice chuckle. Little things, and big thing, laughter is so important.

  8. I’m late to the party here but laughter is wonderful. Laughter has gotten me out of my darkest days. I self medicate with laughter. After losing Chichi yesterday, I just wrote and wrote. I came out with an amazing piece called Why the Baby Years Can Suck It. Well, I think it’s amazing. Anyway, thank you for mentioning me above. That was really sweet of you!

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