Good genuine laughter not only makes you feel better but alsohelps in combats pain. While a polite titter may keep others happy, it does nothing to raise levels of feel-good endorphins, say the Oxford University scientists.
Professor Robin Dunbar, one of Britain’s leading evolutionary biologists, recorded the amount of laughter produced when his subjects watched comedy videos on television, and during comedy routines at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Their laughter levels were compared with those who watched factual clips or drama. Professor Dunbar then assessed their pain tolerance. Tests included measuring how long they could stand a frozen wine cooler sleeve on their arm, and how long they could stand with their backs against a wall and their knees bent.
The results, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, revealed that those who watched comedy in a group laughed the most and had a heightened pain tolerance.
The effects were down to the laughter, rather than just feeling good, since those who watched nature videos which left them feeling as happy as the comedy watchers, were not able to tolerate increased pain afterwards.
The researchers said: ‘Laughing is physically very exhausting, and anything that taxes the body physically triggers endorphins as a natural response as part of the pain control mechanism.’
This rush of endorphins is also thought to help us bond with others, perhaps explaining why laughter plays such an important role in our social lives.
Professor Dunbar said: ‘We think the effect only comes from full-blown hearty laughter, which involves a series of sharp exhalations with no in-drawing of breath.’
Previous studies have credited laughter with being good for the heart, boosting circulation as much as exercise or cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Laughter also melts away the pounds, with an hour of hilarity a day burning off as many calories as 30 minutes of weight lifting. The benefits don’t end there. Laughter requires help from at least 15 facial muscles, keeping them supple and the skin glowing. Even the mere expectation of something funny is good for health. The anticipation of a belly laugh or two appears to be enough to lift our spirits and boost the immune system, with effects lasting for up to 24 hours.