Go ahead and go on a Netflix comedy binge this weekend—it’s good for you! Research shows that laughter is great for everything from our physical health to our relationships…and that jokes aren’t even the best way to elicit a chuckle. Keep reading for some surprising facts about laughter.
Most of our laughs aren’t in response to jokes.
If you’re not a natural joke-teller, don’t worry. You don’t need to master knock-knock jokes to make people laugh. University of Maryland researcher Robert Provine found that we laugh the most when talking to our friends—not at jokes, but at statements and comments that don’t even seem objectively funny. We use laughter to communicate, not necessarily to react to a joke—so chuckling with our friends is our way of telling them we like them.
The couple that laughs together, stays together.
When psychologist Robert Levenson asked couples to discuss something that annoyed them about their partner, some kept it light, smiling and laughing. Those couples not only felt better after the conversation, they also stayed together longer and reported higher relationship satisfaction.
Laughing may help prevent heart disease.
Medicine and a healthy lifestyle may actually be the best medicine, but laughter plays a crucial part too. A study from the University of Maryland Medical Center found that patients with heart disease laughed less and displayed more anger and hostility than people who laughed more. “We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels,” professor Michael Miller, M.D. said in a press release. “This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack.”
Laughing burns calories.
Sorry, you can’t skip your spin class in favor of watching YouTube videos all afternoon. But laughing does give you a small calorie-burning benefit—10-15 minutes of laughter a day can increase heart rate and burn up to 40 calories, according to a Vanderbilt University study.
Laughing improves memory in older adults.
In a 2014 study by Loma Linda University, researchers found that watching a funny video for 20 minutes improved delayed recall and learning ability while decreasing cortisol—a stress hormone that damages hippocampus neurons—in older adults. “The study’s findings suggest that humor can have clinical benefits and rehabilitative implications and can be implemented in programs that support whole-person wellness for older adults,” the study authors concluded.
Even anticipating a laugh is good for you.
On your way to the movie theater to catch a comedy? You’re getting the benefits of laughing before you even get your popcorn. Researchers have found that when people anticipate watching a humorous video, chemicals that alleviate depression and a hormone that boosts immunity increase. Anticipation of laughter also reduces stress hormones that weaken that immune system.
Laughing helps us feel better when we’re scared.
Ever had trouble controlling your laughter during a scary or stressful situation? That was your body’s way of trying to balance out your emotions. “When we are at risk of being overwhelmed by our emotions—either positive or negative—expressing the opposite emotion can have a dampening effect and restore emotional balance,” Wray Herbert writes in The Association for Psychological Science.
Laughter can foster closer relationships.
Want a new friend to open up to you? Invite them to a comedy show. Researchers at University College London found that when strangers watched a funny video and laughed together before being asked to write a message about themselves to share with another study participant, they shared significantly more intimate information with each other.