An uproarious guffaw, uncontainable giggle, or a hearty hoot often has a ripple effect, turning a quiet room into a cacophony of sounds collectively identified as laughter.

Humor is generally considered a subjective experience. Laughter, however, can be spontaneous or consciously produced by going through the motions (fake it till you make it). Either way, the overall benefits associated with laughter make it a virtually priceless self-care strategy.

What Research Tells Us

The discipline that studies the psychological and physiological effects of laughter is dubbed gelotology: seriously. Laughter causes facial and vocal muscles to contract and respiratory patterns to change while the internal organs receive a hearty massage. Feel-good chemicals (endorphins) are released, and the stress hormone cortisol is suppressed. Additional research suggests the physiological benefits gained from laughter can persist for up to 45 minutes. In the long term, laughter can lead to increased immune cell activity, improved blood flow, and relief from negative tension and stress.

Patients with cancer and oncology nurses may find themselves using humor when a situation is anything but funny. Studies show that a shared laugh can neutralize discomfort, instill therapeutic bonding, foster communication and promote positive social interaction. Researchers and mental health experts agree that although laughter is considered good medicine, humor is a subjective experience and must be used judiciously in healthcare settings.

How to Practice

Some people are naturally quick witted and laugh easily. If you do not fall into that category, press on and try the suggestions listed in Figure 1. Given the benefits of laughter, you have nothing to lose but unwanted stress and tension.