Feeling the need to feel better?
There is something we can all do, as many times as we want every day. It’s effective. It’s contagious. It can be addictive, but it’s totally safe. And it’s absolutely free.
- It relieves tension and stress
- It boosts the immune system, by reducing stress hormones and increasing activity among immune cells and antibodies
- It helps to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, by improving blood flow and blood vessel function
- It triggers the release of dopamine, which helps the brain to process emotional responses and enhance our experience of pleasure
- It produces serotonin, to improve our mood
- It creates endorphins, to regulate our pain and stress and to induce euphoria
What is this magic thing?
(No, it’s nothing dirty.)
It’s simple. Laughter.
Why do we laugh?
We laugh for lots of reasons, probably least often because someone has told us an excellent joke. We laugh at situations, with people, when ridiculous things happen, to understand and be understood, to diffuse scenarios that could be difficult, to be polite, appear approachable, or (if you’re me) to try to disguise extreme awkwardness.
Sometimes we might have to try to smile or laugh, and other times - it comes from nowhere. But both are equally important for our physical health, and mental wellbeing.
Funny is funny
According to neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott, with involuntary laughter, you literally can’t do anything else, the laugh seems to take over your body. It’s spontaneous - and the sounds we make (as we instinctively squeeze air out in short bursts) are unlike anything else we do.
“I get it!” Actually means, “I get you”
Social laughter, on the other hand, is a controlled part of interaction - and an important bonding tool. “We’re laughing to show that we like someone, we know someone, we’re part of the same group as someone,” says Scott.
You are 30 times more likely to laugh with someone you like
Maintaining social interactions - especially at this weird isolating time is key. Not only to stave off loneliness, but to help us to laugh (and get all the benefits that go with it), and to maintain our levels of empathy too.
“Evidence shows that the more we are on our own, the less empathetic we become,” says Scott. Now, more than ever we need to make sure we are at our most patient and understanding - so keeping in touch with our loved ones is something to put at the top of your daily goals list.
(Bonus tip: Daily achievable goals, like FaceTiming your mum, are perfect ways to give your brain a little burst of feel-good hormones, which will help you to feel happier overall.)
We are in the Golden Age of virtual face to face interactions
Sometimes, FaceTime calls feel like a lot of pressure - but they really don’t need to always be about having a conversation. Call to watch a movie and chat away as if you were all in the same room. Call a friend on your laptop and have dinner together. It’s those casual, everyday interactions that we’re all missing - and crucially, will probably get you laughing together as you’re bouncing off each other as you usually would.
All that matters is that you’re in contact.
FOR THE NERDY: Why We Laugh by Dr Sophie Scott (Ted Talk)
Bonus shout-out: This week was inspired by the Maths of Life on Lauren Laverne’s show on BBC 6 Music. Here’s a brilliant breakdown of it.