Social benefits of laughter

In the last newsletter I wrote about the health benefits of laughter; today I’ll talk about the social benefits.

After studying 1,200 people laughing spontaneously, Robert Provine concluded that the main purpose of laughter is to bind people together. It’s an instinctive language that we all speak. We laugh when others are laughing, we laugh at things other people say and we laugh at the things we say ourselves when we want to make other people laugh.

Laughter defuses tension and deflects anger. In an embarrassing situation, it can rescue your dignity. A laugh shows that you trust the people you’re with. There’s a snowball effect – the more laughter there is in a group, the more comfortable people feel with one another, leading to more laughter.

Laughter is made to be shared – we laugh 30 times more often in company. One experiment showed that even laughing gas, which can have people rolling about with laughter, loses most of its effect when taken alone. (I’m trying to picture this experiment: rows of isolated cubicles occupied by sad loners, unable to crack a smile as they talk to themselves in silly high pitched voices.)

Since laughter is catching, it seems a good idea to spend time with people, preferably happy ones. And if the people you’re with aren’t laughing much, you can start the snowball effect with a giggle of your own.

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