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Humor and Health

We were in Salino, Utah when we were arrested for not going through a green light. We pleaded "maybe". I asked the judge if he knew what time it is, he did, and I said, "No further questions."

I went to court for a parking ticket. I pleaded insanity. I said, "Your honor, why would anyone in their right mind park in the passing lane?" When I get real bored, I like to drive downtown and get a great parking spot, then sit in my car and count how many people ask me if I'm leaving. Yesterday I parked my car in a tow-away zone. . . When I came back the entire area was missing. -- Steven Wright

Maybe these one-liners from Steven Wright make you laugh or at least smile a little. If so, how does it feel? Most of us have had the experience of being around someone who lightens our mood by saying something funny. Now there is increasing research on humor that suggests that incorporation of humor and laughter into your daily life promotes mental and even physical health. And it's fun! In this article I will outline some of the health benefits of humor and will discuss ways to incorporate more humor into your life.

A study done at the University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that having a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at oneself and/or stressful situations can relax your body and increase your capacity to fight disease. Regular incorporation of laughter and humor can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, elevate mood, reduce the risk of heart disease, boost the immune system, improve brain functioning, promote relaxation, and foster closer relationships.

In terms of mental and emotional health, humor helps reduce the frequency and duration of painful or uncomfortable emotions. It is impossible to feel angry, depressed, anxious, etc. and to feel humor at the same time. If you can bring a light-hearted humor to everyday experiences, these "negative" emotions are less likely to crop up at all. Having a sense of humor can also help you to meet new people and brings you closer to those with whom you have existing relationships. It is fun to laugh and when you're funny and/or laughing, other people want to be around you. Experiencing humor leads us to talk more, make more eye contact with other people, and touch people in a compassionate way. If you can laugh with someone else, especially about a problem or stressful situation, it connects you with that person in a more intimate way and makes the situation more tolerable for both of you.

The benefits are clear! So how can we learn to laugh, have a sense of humor, and just generally lighten up? The first thing is to smile more often. Smiling, like laughter, is contagious. If you smile, those around you are more likely to smile at you. Plus, smiling releases endorphins in our brains that actually, chemically, make us feel better!

Second, learn to be grateful for the things and people in your life. Noticing the things you're grateful for shifts your thoughts from negative (or neutral) to positive. Having positive thoughts is the first step towards humor and laughter. Chances are there is something positive you can take away from even the most negative or upsetting situation. You may have to look really hard, but there's likely to be something good--if only that the bad event is over.

Incorporate happy people who laugh a lot into your life. If you hear people laughing, try to get in on it. Ask them what's so funny. Usually people want to share their jokes or funny stories because humor and laugher feel so good that they want to experience it all over again by telling you. Seeking out people who routinely incorporate humor in their lives will influence you in a similar way. If you feel that most of the people around you are serious and lacking in the humor department, try watching funny movies, going to comedy shows, or even signing up for a "joke of the day" on a humor website.

You can also increase the humor in your life by finding ways to be silly or childlike (while still attending to daily responsibilities). Wearing ridiculous clothes, keeping toys around you (personally, I enjoy bobble head dolls and slinkys), telling stupid jokes, or using temporary hair color are all possible ways to lighten up your mood and probably that of those around you. Those of us who spend time around little kids might have an easier time of this--since kids are naturally curious and funny, spending time with kids can remind us of this side of ourselves.

Learn to laugh at yourself! We all make mistakes, have insecurities, have foibles, and do embarrassing things. If you can talk or joke about how embarrassed or uncomfortable you've been in these kinds of situations, you've learned to laugh at yourself. Other people will laugh too and chances are they'll be laughing because they've done or felt the same thing.

Finally, one of the most important things you can do to increase the humor and lightness in your life is to learn to manage stress and any overwhelming personal problems going on in your life. This might mean that you need some professional help to cope with the painful stuff before you can feel humor again. It's very hard to feel stressed and humorous at the same time, so get some help getting that stress under control. It seems only appropriate to end this article with a mental health joke--this one's from the website www.gcfl.net: (Good Clean Funnies List): During a phone conversation, my nephew mentioned that he was taking a psychology course at the university. "Oh, great," I said. "Now you'll be analyzing everyone in the family."

"No, no," he replied. "I don't take abnormal psychology until next semester. "

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