Laugh Louder, Live Better

April Fools’ Day is upon us and if you plan on pulling a practical joke there is good news—you can tell whomever you are pranking that you were just doing it for their health. Research in the last 30 years has shown that hearty laughter reduces pain and boosts the immune system.  It also gives our hearts and lungs a workout.

John Morreall, a doctor of philosophy and chair of the religious studies department at the College of William and Mary, teaches university courses on humor and is an internationally recognized authority on humor and its benefits. He first became interested in the study of humor after reading the book Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient which documented how one man, Norman Cousins, recovered from a serious disease with the help of what Cousins claimed was regularly scheduled bouts of laughter.

During his recovery, Cousins watched episodes of Candid Camera and old Marx Brothers films. He found that a few minutes of hearty laughter brought him relief from pain and allowed him much needed sleep. During his self-prescribed laughter therapy, his doctors noted that his blood sedimentation rate—a measure of inflammation—was declining. Cousins eventually went on to pioneer a new medical field, psychoneuroimmunology, which studies the interaction of our emotions, our nervous system and our immune system.

Through his company, Humor Works, Morreall touches on the correlation between health and humor. He presents on various humor-related topics like how humor reduces stress and fosters mental ability.

“Stress suppresses the immune system while laughter enhances it,” Morreall says. “According to my friend William Fry of Stanford University Medical School, our lungs take in six times more oxygen when we laugh heartily than when we’re simply having a conversation.  After laughter, too, our heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension are below normal, and stay that way for up to 45 minutes.”

Morreall explains that a good sense of humor is not just medically healthy, but serves as a social lubricant to help you get along with people better. Consider a few examples for how you can inject more humor and health into your everyday life:

  • Watch a funny video or read a funny article and don’t be afraid to laugh. Research shows that preschoolers laugh on average up to 200 times a day while adults only laugh 15 times.
  • Relate to coworkers on humorous topics.  Morreall notes a bank that held Friday meetings where tellers would discuss their worst customers of the week. Ironically, this boosted morale, brought workers together on common ground and translated to happier employees and happier customers.
  • Pull a prank that’s all in good fun! It is April Fools’ Day, after all. Whether it’s you who covers your spouse’s desk in Post-it notes, or a friend who places sugar in your salt shaker at lunch, have a laugh and know that you are helping your health at the same time.