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Why Do People Laugh?

Laughter is Ancient Behavior

A real laugh.The laugh is related more to speech than to emotions and is used in social settings with others. People seldom laugh when not with others. We use the laugh as a nonverbal punctuation to our speech. The laugh is usually produced in response to embarrassment, excitement, or humor. Laughter provides relief from stress by releasing pain-killing, euphoria-producing endorphins, enkephalins, dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline. Socially, laughter unites us as friendly allies against outsiders and against forces beyond our control. In groups of children, women or men, laughter strengthens bonds of comradeship.



Couple laughingUnlike the smile, which is more related to old brain limbic system survival and mating instincts, the laugh comes from the new brain frontal lobes, as well as centers of the motor and cognitive cerebral cortex. These are relatively recent additions in our new brain evolutionary development. This means that the laugh has much to do with our speech punctuation and is more controllable than the real smile. This is both good and bad. The good side is that we can consciously control our laughter and even practice and improve it for most effectiveness as communication in our daily relationships. The bad side is it can be used inappropriately in social settings.

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Laughter Reduces Stress

It is not uncommon for someone under stress to laugh too much and too loud, much to the annoyance of others. Unfortunately they stand out in negative ways they are not aware of and they sabotage possibly good relationships. The person who is laughing too much and too loud is showing they are nervous and uncomfortable. They are trying to tell others to relax and be comfortable with them. This is just to compensate for their own emotional stress and discomfort.

A real laugh.Laughter may be triggered by something we see, hear, or feel, but rarely by smell or taste. Often it involves a complex or clever situation that only intellectual understanding brings out the humor or absurdity that makes us laugh. This is not the old brain limbic system working and therefore most likely is not related to our survival or mating instincts. Laughter is much more complex.

A real laugh.Laughter has beneficial health effects according to Teresa Holley at the National Naval Medical Center Health Promotion. Scientific research now indicates the curative and stress-relieving power of laughter extends well beyond what was previously thought. During a hearty laugh, there is a slight rise in heart rate and blood pressure. Then after the laugh, the blood pressure sinks below pre-laugh levels. Also the brain may release pain-relieving hormones. A good strong laugh also provides a massage for the facial muscles, the diaphragm and abdomen. In his book "Anatomy of An Illness," Norman Cousins cited laughter as an effective tool for promoting the healing process. He states, "Laughter is internal jogging."

Everyone's Laughter is Unique

Our personal laugh is a true social language art that deserves practicing and improving just as we have to practice talking and public speaking. Developing a good laugh can provide you with a valuable tool for improving your flirting, dating and all other relationships. According to one national magazine survey, more than anything else on a first date, women want men to make them laugh.

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© Copyright 2005, revised 2009 by Lawrence Rodrigues, M.S., Director: EastWest Institute for Self-Understanding.
All rights reserved worldwide.