Why Humor Is Important
Episode #2 of the course Humor: Science of how to be funny by David Urbansky
Humor has many benefits. In this lesson, we break down in which areas of life humor plays an important role. At least subconsciously, you already know that humor is important; that’s why you’re reading this course. I would like to give you a couple more good reasons that you might not have thought of.
Laughing is good for your heart. When you laugh, your heart rate increases, you breathe more deeply, and more oxygen passes through your blood. This improves your lung function and reduces your risk of heart attacks [1,2,3]. In one study, researchers had participants watch either the war movie Saving Private Ryan or the comedy show Saturday Night Live and measured their blood flow afterwards. While the stressful war movie lowered blood flow by 35%, the funny show literally made the participants’ blood flow better by 22% .
Laughing is really not unlike a small workout. Researchers have found that laughter increases energy expenditure by 3% . Just 20 seconds of a “good hard belly laugh is worth three minutes on the rowing machine” .
Laughing also reduces stress, boosts your immune system, and lowers your blood pressure. When you laugh, your body produces fewer stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, but increases health-enhancing hormones like endorphins (the same hormones you get when you exercise or fall in love) and infection-fighting antibodies [6,7,8,9,10,11].
While it won’t make you invincible, laughing can also act as pain relief. Studies have shown that people who watched funny videos needed less pain medication; their pain threshold went up by 10%. This effect is even stronger when experiencing laughter in groups rather than alone .
If you’re interested in getting pregnant, send in the clowns! A study showed that women who were entertained by clowns were 16% more likely to get pregnant than the ones who didn’t . See, clowns are good for something!
Okay, now that you see that laughing is good for your body overall, let’s look at what it can do for your mind!
Humor reduces anxiety, depression, and stress [14,15,16] and improves your mood. When you laugh, you get distracted from your worries; thanks to the endorphins that rush through your body, your general well-being improves as well.
Comedy can both protect you and help you recover from mental stress [17,18]. In one study, researchers assigned students into two groups. The groups watched either Faces of Death (a documentary showing different ways people have died, something extremely hard to stomach) or a neutral travel documentary. In each group, the researchers let some students watch some uplifting comedy before (protection) or after (recovery) they watched the documentary. Students that experienced the comedy before they had to watch the cruel Faces of Death were less affected by negative emotions, such as anger, depression, and fatigue, than those who watched it after. So, if you have something stressful coming up, make sure to tune into some stand-up comedy to build a bit of mental protection.
Appreciating humor helps people during difficult times and to cope with loss. Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl famously discussed the importance of humor in surviving the concentration camps of Nazi Germany: “I would never have made it if I could not have laughed. Laughing lifted me momentarily…out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable…survivable.”
Humor does even more for you—it makes you more creative! Studies have shown that humor and creativity go hand in hand because you have to make new connections and see things in a new light for both . Other studies show a correlation not only between humor and creativity but also between humor and intelligence .
In one study, participants were split into groups. One group watched a funny film, the other a neutral film. The participants were then tested on their problem-solving skills (the famous “candle problem”) . The amused group was 55% more likely to solve the problem than the group that watched the neutral film. It’s amazing how quickly you can turn on your creativity by doing something that is also enjoyable! Humor’s superpower is the release of serotonin, which increases objectivity and improves focus [30,31].
Humor not only improves your physical and mental health. It can also strengthen your relationships or help you find a great partner to begin with!
One study found that 90% of men and 81% of women want a sense of humor in their partner . That doesn’t mean you need to be funny to find a partner; another study found that it’s the shared humor appreciation that matters . For example, you and your partner both laugh about wordplay or have a dark sense of humor. Realizing that someone shares your sense of humor indicates that they also share your values and beliefs , making you feel more similar to them . In short, couples that laugh together have stronger and more supportive relationships .
Humor doesn’t just work for finding the right partner. Joking and laughter are the foundation of non-threatening communication, signaling to friends or even rivals that everything is okay . Making people around you laugh signals intelligence and even gene quality [23,24]. Researchers think that laughter might have evolved in humans because it is hard to fake (as this requires different muscles) and is therefore a more reliable method to convey safety to others .
Wonderful! We now have even more reasons to learn about humor! Tomorrow we’ll explore theories of humor—why are some things funny and others not?
“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower
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 Erratum: Energy Expenditure of Genuine Laughter
 Laughter Yoga
 Humor, Laughter, Learning, and Health! a Brief Review
 The Effect of Mirthful Laughter on Stress and Natural Killer Cell Activity
 Effects of Laughter Therapy on Immune Responses in Postpartum Women
 Humor and Laughter May Influence Health IV. Humor and Immune Function
 Neuroendocrine and Stress Hormone Changes during Mirthful Laughter
 Effect of Humor Therapy on Blood Pressure of Patients Undergoing Hemodialysis
 Social Laughter Is Correlated with an Elevated Pain Threshold
 The Effect of Medical Clowning on Pregnancy Rates after in Vitro Fertilization and Embryo Transfer
 Laughter and Stress Relief in Cancer Patients: A Pilot Study
 Benefits of Humor in Reduction of Threat-Induced Anxiety
 The Effects of Laughter Therapy on Mood State and Self-Esteem in Cancer Patients Undergoing Radiation Therapy: A Randomized Controlled Trial
 Humor Styles, Risk Perceptions, and Risky Behavioral Choices in College Students
 Exposure to Humor before and after an Unpleasant Stimulus: Humor as a Preventative or a Cure
 Student Perceptions of Traits Desired in Themselves as Dating and Marriage Partners
 Humor in Romantic Relationships: A Meta-Analysis
 Putting Laughter in Context: Shared Laughter as Behavioral Indicator of Relationship Well-Being
 Humor as a Technique of Social Influence
 Humor Ability Reveals Intelligence, Predicts Mating Success, and Is Higher in Males
 The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature
 The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner (review)
 When Sharing a Laugh Means Sharing More: Testing the Role of Shared Laughter on Short-Term Interpersonal Consequences
 Laughter and Humor as Complementary and Alternative Medicines for Dementia Patients
 Laughing All the Way to the Bank
 The Relationship of Humor to Intelligence, Creativity, and Intentional and Incidental Learning
 A Dash of Humor Ups Performance and Creativity at Work
 Positive Affect Facilitates Creative Problem Solving
 Candle Problem
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