Humor is Healthy

Provided by Texas Tech Medical Center

daily dose of laughter can bring serious health benefits, says Judith Kupersmith, MD, of Texas Tech Medical Center's neuropsychiatry department.

"Humor is a high-level defense mechanism against anxiety," she said. "Laughter often yields social acceptance, which diminishes anxiety and bolsters our emotional health. When someone says funny things, the listener feels relaxed and calm, but the person using the humor also relaxes and feels less anxiety."

Humor also is a form of relaxation or stress reduction, Kupersmith said. She noted that "gallows humor" is one way to reduce stress. "With gallows humor we relieve anxiety by saying very base, crude but humorous things that we normally would not say in public," she said.

An example of gallows humor might be something we mutter to ourselves, not wanting anyone to hear. "It might not even really be funny," she continued, "but it takes the edge off a stressful situation."

She pointed out that everyone has different perceptions of what is funny. What is humorous to some might be offensive or even strange to others.

In addition to anxiety, humor helps some people deal with aggression, Kupersmith said. "When a person is feeling aggression, they can control those feelings by saying something humorous, which is the opposite of what they are feeling."

Kupersmith said that stress can be a substantial threat to psychological health, depending on the individual's ability to deal with stress. "The most minor of situations can cause some people great stress and anxiety, while others are very stoic and don't get 'stressed out.' I think in today's high-stress environment, we are all looking for stress reduction and ways of coping."

She sees stress as a particular problem among today's adolescents. "I think adolescents today have it much harder than years ago, even with the economic advantages they often have now," Kupersmith said. "We look at them and see that they have cars, they have clothes, they have money, so why are they stressed? We see the problem in younger and younger children. Their childhood is getting shorter and shorter."

Kupersmith noted that one current area of research addresses the interaction of the psychological, neurological and immunological systems.

"These studies show that the more stress you have, the less ability you have to fight infections," she said. "But by using humor and monitoring laughter for a certain period of time, researchers can compare blood counts in cancer patients, for instance, and they are finding that the immune system is healthier in those who laugh."

She noted the following ways in which laughter can boost physiological health:


  • Enhances the cardiovascular system
  • Improves circulation and oxygen exchange
  • Stimulates the nervous system
  • Increases endorphins, which help block pain

Kupersmith believes that in today's high-stress environment, it is sometimes easy to forget to laugh. "I think that's the reason certain people in leadership positions do better than others," she said. "They know how to lighten up and not be so serious all the time."