The Benefits of Treating Depression with Laughter

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

Ha, ha, ha, hee, hee, hee.Come on get silly and laugh with me.Giggle gaggle, wiggle waggle, ho, ho, ho.When you're feeling happy, let it show.I got the sillies and when you get 'em,You'll be silly like me.I can't stop laughing as you can see.
(Lyrics from Barney & Friends, "Laugh with me")

Remember laughing so hard as a kid that your sides would nearly split open and tears would stream out of your eyes? When is the last time you have laughed like that as an adult? A Psychology Today article entitled "Happily Ever Laughter" cites a study which shows that the average child in kindergarten laughs some 300 times a day whereas the typical adult laughs a measly 17 times a day. If you haven't laughed in awhile maybe it is time you did. There is much research to show that laughter really is the best medicine for a lot of different types of maladies including depression.

In this post we are going to explore how laughter can make us feel better physically and emotionally. What does the research show about the benefits of laughter? If you look in the literature there are a multitude of research studies to show that laughter can help with everything from our cardiovascular health to reducing anxiety and feelings of depression.

Here are some of the ways laughter can help us:

  • Laughter may strengthen the immune system by activating cells that attack viruses.

  • Laughing may lower blood pressure for some by inducing relaxation and preventing the release of stress hormones such as cortisol.

  • Some describe laughter as "internal jogging" as you inhale oxygen which stimulates heart and blood circulation.

  • Laughter can trigger the release of endorphins which give you a sense of well being. These endorphins are also natural painkillers.

  • Laughing can reduce stress and anxiety because it naturally relaxes you. Laughter induces your heart rate to slow down and your blood pressure to decrease.

  • Some experts say that laughter increases our creativity as it encourages a new perspective to look at things.

  • Laughing with others may be the best way to reap the benefits of laughter as it improves our mood through social connection and an increased feeling of belonging. Laughing with friends can decrease feelings of alienation and lowers our risk for depression.

Laughter as Therapy

Laughing at a comedian on TV or watching a funny movie can provide a little lift in mood but some take it a step further and believe that regular group sessions where you laugh with others can be a therapeutic treatment for depression. There is a method called "Laughter Yoga" which is gaining ground as a credible [treatment for depression and anxiety].

Laughter yoga groups around the world are coming together to participate in exercises which combine yoga techniques with forced laughter. The people who run such groups believe that you don't need to laugh at a joke to reap the benefits of laughter. For example, participants in [the Pasadena Laughter Club] chant, "Ho-Ho-Hah-Hah-Hah!" as they march and clap to the rhythm. This is no comedy club and the members laugh for no reason as a part of this unique therapy.
"Fake it until you make it" is the mantra of the creator of laughing yoga, [Dr.Madan Kataria], who is otherwise known as "the Guru of Giggling" by his followers. Dr. Kataria has been quoted as saying, "Laughter cannot solve your problems but it can give you the energy to face your problems, to look at life in a different light, a positive light."

Doctor Kataria's philosophy and yoga laughter techniques have caught on around the world. There are yoga laughter groups in India, London, and South Korea. In Philadelphia there are nuns giggling for recreation and at the Pentagon, Army Colonel James Scott has created laughter programs for families of soldiers deployed to Iraq as part of the National Guard.

Just witnessing laughter therapy in action can cause you to burst out in giggles yourself. In a BBC documentary called "The Human Face" (which I highly recommend you to see) actor John Cleese visits Dr. Kataria in Bombay, India where a laughing yoga session is going on.
I dare you to watch this video without laughing. As John Cleese reminds us, if you have all these warm funny faces coming at you, you tend to respond naturally with smiling and laughter.

The social part of this therapy can create a feeling of connection without social hierarchy. Dr. Kataria explains that laughter has "no barriers, no language, and no religion." It is the great equalizer and a way for all people to join together regardless of their personal background.

The great thing about this type of therapy is that it is easy. Laughter is infectious. As many people have said over the years, laughter is the best medicine.

To find out more about laughter yoga here are some further resources:

What are your thoughts? Do you think this could help with your depression? It does sound easy and fun. Let us know what you think about this method for treating depression or if you have tried it. We are eager to hear from you!

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."