We have all heard the expression, “laughter is the best medicine.” When I hear this I immediately think of the movie Patch Adams, which is about a physician who works to help children heal, and cope with illness by dressing up as clown, telling jokes, and performing other antics. If you haven’t seen it you can download it from Redbox Instant Video or Vudu. However, I think that “laughter is the best medicine,” is a bold claim. Is there any evidence to suggest that this is true?
As a matter of fact, there is. First, let’s break down what is actually occurring in your brain when you laugh. There are many different neurotransmitters which we could discuss, but for the sake of brevity let’s just stick to the heavy hitters.
- Serotonin- This is your “happy hormone.” Whenever you feel happiness, there is a bucketload of serotonin coursing through your brain. People who have lower than normal amounts of this hormone typically suffer from depression, anxiety and a myriad of other psychological disorders.
· Dopamine- This hormone has many different effects, but is primarily involved in reward, pleasure, learning and movement control and regulation. Dopamine deficiencies can lead to psychological disorders as well, and are primarily associated with Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, dopamine plays a large role in addiction.
So what do these neurohormones have to do with laughter? When you are listening to someone set up a joke, your brain eagerly awaits for the punch line, and when it is finally delivered, you get a big burst of dopamine, and then a big burst of serotonin. The dopamine acts as a reward system which makes you crave more, and the serotonin creates the happy feeling of euphoria afterwards. The same mechanism works for games or other diversions. In fact, this is the same system that Las Vegas casino owners use to keep you coming back. Every time your brain sees the flash of the lights on the slot machine and its ringing of the C chord tones, your brain gets a huge reward, and then you feel happy, win or lose.
The next question is, how does this act like medicine? There are several articles linked below which detail the science behind the answer. Serotonin, which makes you feel happy, has been linked to good psychological well-being, and prevents depression and anxiety, but also stimulates the release of other pain killing chemicals in your body. Additionally, serotonin modulates chemicals associated with inflammation and tissue regeneration, and has been shown to aid in wound healing, amongst other things. Dopamine also assists in modulation of pain and is able to affect the ability to move and use the muscles in the best way.
So is laughter the best medicine? It is certainly good medicine, and laughter when combined with games, or other activities that a person may enjoy, will work even better. This is the best reason to have a positive outlook on life, and don’t forget to pay it forward. Share your good mood with someone who is sick or hurting. Give them a hug (so long as they are not contagious), play a game, tell them a joke, or just smile. It can help boost serotonin and dopamine in their brain and put them back on the track to well-being.