Laughter has been long been cited as a key to good health.
In fact, the King James Bible, dating back to 1611, reads, “A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
This assertion is supported by the research of many academic institutions, whose reports lay claim that humor has legitimate positive physiological effects on subjects. One study from The Sycamore Nursing Center at Indiana State University concluded that laughter improves immune functions in cancer patients. The Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management at Clemson University, found laughter to “provide significant benefits” “on affect and perceived pain in elderly residents of a long term care facility.”
By many, laughter is even thought to have somewhat mystical powers, like the ability to extend one’s lifespan. So-called “longevity doctor,” Terry Grossman M.D., supports this notion, citing a Norwegian study, among others, in which “people who found the world to be the most humorous were 35 percent more likely to be alive at the end of the seven years of the study.”
In each of these studies, positive physiological shifts correlating with laughter were observed, supporting researchers claims. However, steadfast evidence that laughter is the sole cause of these changes is lacking. As Robert Provine, a neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, points out in his Psychology Today article The Science of Laughter, “Rigorous proof that we can reduce stress and pain through laughter remains an unrealized but reasonable prospect.”
Professor Provine is most certainly an expert on the subject, having studied laughter for over 10 years and written two books on the matter. In following up with Professor Provine he outlined the bottom line of what he has discovered through his years of research, that “we evolved laughter as a signal to change the behavior of other people, not to make ourselves healthy.”
This begs the question, are the observed physiological effects noted in studies linking laughter to health really caused by the frequency with which subjects laugh throughout their lives? Or rather, are these effects attributed to laughter actually a result of the strong social ties associated with a more humorous and outgoing personality? After all, studies similar to those previously discussed on laughter, like its ability to fight cancer, have been conducted attributing the same physiological effects to strong social ties and friendships, rather than laughter.
Although laughter is, in some way, most definitely linked to improved health, as of yet there is not enough evidence to prove definite causation between the two. Hopefully, in near future, further research will be done on the matter.
Until then all we know is that it couldn’t hurt to laugh a bit.