Laughter can be pleasurable for its own sake — a way to bond with others or even signal who belongs in a group and who does not. It may also improve health.
Mental and physical health affect one another. So it stands to reason that pleasurable feelings from laughter could improve overall health. An emerging body of research finds that laughter could improve overall health, well-being, and life satisfaction.
However, this research is in its early stages, and many studies around the benefits of laughter are small or find only modest benefits. And while there is no evidence that laughter can cure any medical condition, it may improve a person’s subjective sense of well-being or quality of life. Because laughter can be pleasurable and has few risks, it makes sense to incorporate it into a person’s routine.
Keep reading to learn more about some of the health benefits of laughter, including mental health, oral health, and more.
People laugh using a combination of inhaling, exhaling, and vocalizing. This makes laughter a type of breathing that involves making sounds.
Researchers have used many different systems for classifying types of laughter. For example, a 2018 paper divides laughter into four types:
- schadenfreude: laughing at someone else’s expense
- tickling: involuntary laughter when being tickled
- friendly-joyful: laughing in play or at something funny
- taunting: teasing laughter
Additionally, a 2021 paper divides laughter into three types:
- affiliative: the sort of laughter that builds relationships or demonstrates playfulness
- de-escalative: nervous laughter designed to defuse tension
- power: laughing at someone else to express power
Though classification systems vary, they all agree that different types of laughter have different sounds and that not all laughter is a sign of pleasure or joy.
Scientists used to think laughter was a unique human behavior, perhaps even one of the things that separate humans from nonhuman animals. However, research now proves this is not true. A 2021 study found that laughter occurs in at least 65 nonhuman animal species.
Several studies suggest that laughter may improve certain aspects of physical or mental health.
Subjective well-being and general wellness
Laughter may improve a person’s sense of well-being or their assessment of their own health. A 2022 systematic review and meta-analysis found several benefits that have associations with laughter, including an improvement in mental health. Laughter also improved somatic symptoms, physical symptoms that a person notices before their anxiety or emotional or psychological distress.
Laughter may support people to achieve their goals or improve personal development. In a 2020 systematic scoping review, researchers looked at 240 prior studies that included a total of 574,611 participants. They found that laughter may be an important self-care tool that aids personal development.
The review also found more data supporting humorous laughter’s benefits than evidence for laughter in general.
Mental health can directly and indirectly affect physical health. For example, a person with depression may experience physical health complaints such as pain. They may also have difficulties in adopting healthy living strategies that improve their overall health.
Some evidence suggests laughter may improve mental health.
For example, in a
A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis also cautions there is insufficient current evidence to support laughter therapies, but it found preliminary evidence that laughter may improve mental health. The analysis also found some evidence that laughter could improve depression, anxiety, and stress levels. Additionally, the researchers reported that induced, simulated laughter was more effective than spontaneous, humorous laughter.
Laughter may ease pain or reduce sensitivity to pain. This is especially true in people with underlying medical conditions.
A 2021 study of 68 people undergoing hemodialysis, a treatment to filter waste from the body, found that a laughter yoga therapy intervention could reduce their perceptions of pain immediately following a yoga session. The laughter yoga also improved sleep. The yoga sessions were 30 minutes, and patients participated in 16 sessions.
The study of laughter is an emerging, new field. Most studies on the benefits of laughter are small, and the data is not always reliable.
For this reason, no strong evidence supports the long-term benefits of laughter or laughter therapy. However, this does not mean such benefits do not exist — scientists have simply not analyzed them.
That said, laughter has very few drawbacks and can provide relief, pleasure, and joy for those who may be experiencing emotional distress, physical distress, or both.
Not all laughter is happy or pleasurable. But research suggests that laughing from joy may improve mood and potentially health.
It is important to note that this does not mean people should have to laugh and that encouraging a person to laugh may not improve their health. Additionally, individuals who are feeling sad may not feel better when told to laugh rather than express sadness.
Encouraging only joyful emotional expression is an example of toxic positivity, which can actually undermine health.
People interested in enjoying the health benefits of laughter should seek out sources of joyful laughter, such as funny books or movies, conversations with loved ones, and playful antics with pets, children, or friends. They should also experiment with laughter to determine its benefits and helpfulness for themselves.