‘A clown is like aspirin, only he works twice as fast’ Groucho Marx.

Personally I just don’t ‘get’ the Marx Brothers, but I completely agree that laughter is powerful medicine. It may sound trite, but more and more research shows that laughing can protect you from the effects of stress by inducing positive physical changes in your brain and body.

The physical benefits of laughter

Ever felt breathless after laughing? Laughter forces you to take in more oxygen, which stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles and causes your brain to release feel good endorphins. Your heart rate and blood pressure are likely to drop as a result of laughing- in fact there was even one study which indicated that even expecting to laugh could have this effect.

Longer term, laughing regularly is thought to reduce the amount of stress hormones swilling around, leading to better immunity and pain relief as well as a better mood.

Laughter as social glue

Laughing is also a way that humans bond. Research shows that we are 30 times more likely to laugh at something when we’re with other people. We also find the people we know well funnier than strangers (this is about laughing with people not at them!) Relationships where couples frequently laugh together, tend to be more successful- so those requests for a GSOH are important.

Because laughter is contagious, you don’t really even need to find something that funny. Just the act of laughing and hearing others laugh can set off a chain reaction. Laughter Yoga works on this basis: people in a group start laughing artificially at first, and very quickly it takes on a life of its own. The same thing applies to smiling artifically, which does actually make you feel better. [If you are an ELT teacher I have a free lesson plan about this that you can download here.]

See the funny side

Laughter and not taking things too seriously is also a key defence against the Inner Troll, which has absolutely NO sense of humour at all. Try to see the funny side of that person who constantly criticises you, or the dumb mistake you made. Remember the Boggart in Harry Potter? It turned itself into your biggest fear, and the only way to get rid of it was to laugh at it.

So, especially if you are feeling tense and overwhelmed, it is really worth considering how to get more laughter into your life, because, as we have seen, laughing can protect you from the effects of stress. Arrange to see friends who make you laugh, watch your favourite comedy, or just start laughing to yourself (maybe pick your place and time to do this one though…)