Let’s say you’re sitting on the couch — perhaps with a friend or partner — when something humorous transpires on TV or in a movie. Suddenly, an involuntary, simultaneous contraction of 15 facial muscles occurs in tandem with a rhythmic series of noises. “Laughter is a reflex,” said author and journalist, Arthur Koestler, “but unique in that it serves no apparent biological purpose; one might call it a luxury reflex.”
So how can we make the most of this “luxury reflex”?
What’s Funny to You?
Laughter is universal but when it comes to what produces laughter, well, that’s a much different story. From memes to stand-up, rom-coms to New Yorker cartoons, sight gags to puns — humor is very much a matter of opinion. And comedic opinions can fluctuate widely. Let’s not forget what happened when Ray Liotta told Joe Pesci he was “funny” in Goodfellas:
“The Best Medicine”
Contrary to Koestler’s analysis above, laughter is quite good for our health. For starters, how does enhanced immunity, decreased inflammation, and a boost in good cholesterol sound? Steady doses of laughter can also:
1) Fortify Relationship and Friendship Bonds
While both sexes rate “sense of humor” as a top-three trait, men and women tend to embrace merriment in different ways. Studies find that men are more likely to initiate laughter. However, women laugh about 126 percent more than men. This combination seems to work since couples who laugh together more often report being in higher-quality relationships. This could have something to do with the endorphin release of laughter fostering two important emotions: safety and togetherness.
A similar dynamic occurs within non-romantic bonds. Deeply connected people experience a sense of speaking the same language. In the realm of humor, this is where inside jokes can inspire closeness. There’s nothing like having something only you and one other person truly “gets.”
2) Build Resilience
Ingesting a narcotic drug is one way to induce a feeling of euphoria. Fortunately, laughter — especially in a time of stress — has been shown to release a similar amount of euphoria as an addictive opioid. The only “side effects” of chuckling, however, are that they build up our resilience and help us better regulate our emotions.
3) Improve Memory
Laughter reduces the presence of cortisol, a potentially dangerous stress hormone. This process has been found to sharpen our ability to remember and recall more efficiently.
Plus, Laughter Simply Feels So Good
Hey, there’s gotta be something incredible about this “luxury reflex” if we have so many words for “laugh” (titter, chortle, snicker, cackle, guffaw, snigger, snort, etc.); or for “funny” (hilarious, humorous, comical, droll, hysterical, amusing, witty, mirthful, etc.); and for “joke” (gag, one-liner, witticism, wisecrack, riposte, jest, prank, jibe, etc.).
Yet somewhere over the years, we, unfortunately, manage to lose track of a few thousand laughs. Children laugh, on average, 400 times a day. For adults, that number is 15.
If laughter is indeed the best medicine, we need to find a much better balance during a global health crisis. To kickstart that process, here’s a sampler of 10 giggle-inducing movie and TV scenes:
- Caddyshack: Bill Murray tells a story about the Dalai Lama
- Office Space: Three men and a printer
- I Love Lucy: This one remains an absolute classic — for good reason
- Duck Soup: Harpo and Chico meet a lemonade vendor
- Bringing Up Baby: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and a brontosaurus
- Strangelove: A casual phone call about Armageddon
- Anchorman: Ron Burgundy in a glass case of emotion
- The Carol Burnett Show: The bloopers were as great as the skits…
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail: The French sure know how to insult
- This Is Spinal Tap: When rock shows go wildly bad…
I say we start a new movement to help recapture some of those healing “luxury reflexes.” We can call it Puns Not Pills. What? What are ya laughing at? Do I amuse you?
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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