Research papers concluding that laughter increases mood seem a little redundant (seriously? we would never have guessed!). But did you know that laughing affects how your brain works? A good belly laugh can reduce pain, soften depression, increase oxygen supply to the brain, and even positively influence our food choices. Let’s take a look.
1. Laughing reduces cortisol stress hormones
I believe there is a simple reason why Unplug, our night-time nootropic, has been so popular: we’re all stressed. Finding additional tools to reduce our cortisol levels can go a long way in improving our brain health and overall wellbeing. As it happens, research suggests that laughing is one way you can do this. So go ahead and crack your joke, even if you’re the only one who laughs at it – who cares, when you’re the one getting the benefits?
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2. Laughing increases oxygen supply to the brain
If you’re anything like me, you’ll sometimes feel a little drop in energy in the mid-afternoon, sitting idle at your desk. I have found an incredibly powerful, immediate and sustained solution to this: a headstand. Going upside down for a few seconds increases blood flow in my brain and I feel an immediate surge in mental energy. What may have seemed like an insurmountable problem a few seconds ago, feels like a small hurdle now that my brain is well oxygenated once more.
Maybe you don’t feel comfortable busting out a headstand in your open-plan office. Although I think you should try, because it will guarantee some laughter. And here’s the catch, laughter also increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain. It’s simple: by causing an accelerated and erratic breathing pattern, a good laugh increases oxygenation of your blood, powering up your brain with a fresh dose of O2.
3. Laughing improves memory formation
Try to think of a distant memory. It could be anything. Perhaps your first day at a new job. Or a surprise birthday party. Or a family holiday. Our strongest memories tend to be attached to emotions – fear, excitement, love… and of course laughter. If you can connect experiences, places, objects and facts to a moment of laughter, you will strengthen the memory around them.
4. Laughing reduces pain and softens depression
A very cool thing happens in your brain when you laugh: it releases serotonin, the happy hormone. In practice, this can help alleviate physical pain from a small cut or bruise. But it doesn’t just apply to the body: a 2015 study showed that “laughter therapy” can even lessen depression. That’s pretty cool.
5. Laughing helps your brain make healthier food choices
Everyone’s seen those ridiculous ads where a slender and impossibly beautiful woman laughs as she stares at a bowl of undressed green salad. Not so ridiculous after all. As it turns out, good mood, influenced by laughter, has been shown to help people make healthy food choices. On the contrary, negative moods are associated with indulgent food choices.
So: more laughter equals better mood. Better mood means better food choices. And better food choices equal better brain health. Bingo!
6. Laughing reinforces brain connectivity
But that’s not all. There is another quirk to how laughter affects our brain, and this is something we all do from the moment we are born, without even realising it. Subtle changes in laughter can mark the difference between joy, teasing, tickling, bonding, agreement, mockery, sarcasm, or even repulsion and more. Listening out to these different cues reinforces complex social patterns and connectivity in our brain.
By extension, learning how foreign cultures use laughter in different ways can improve our neuroplasticity, keeping our brain youthful, in the same way that learning a new language or a new movement pattern can.
A good joke can soften pain and alleviate stress. It strengthens social bonds and etches meaningful memories. Laughter oxygenates our brain so we can think of the next punchline.
And it helps us make healthy food choices, so we can keep moving through life with strength and confidence.