Health benefits of laughing and smiling

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Today's fast-paced lifestyle places a lot of pressure and stress upon many of us. This can strain our physical and mental well-being as well as our happiness. We look at how smiling and laughing can improve your overall health.

If you're feeling tired, stressed or unhappy, the last thing you'll feel like doing is cracking a smile or bursting into laughter. However, scientific research shows that smiling or laughing - even if faked - can make you happier and healthier. We take a closer look at how laughing and smiling can provide health benefits.

Chemical reaction

The movement of muscles in your face when smiling sends signals to the brain, which causes a release of chemicals known as endorphins and serotonini. Endorphins and serotonin boost your mood and makes you feel happyii. Even if you're not feeling particularly happy, fake a smile - our brains can't tell the difference and will release endorphins and serotonin making us feel happier and more relaxediii,iv. Endorphins are also the body's natural painkillersi, and laughing or smiling can relieve pain for people as they tend to 'forget' about physical discomfortv.

Endorphins, released when you smile or laugh, can relieve stress and make you feel happy.

Reduces stress hormones

Cortisol and catecholamines are hormones that are released in response to stressful scenariosv,vi. When endorphins are released as a result of feeling happy, cortisol and catecholamines are reduced, similar to the effect of moderate physical exercisev,vi. Laughing can also affect the appetite-related hormones leptin and ghrelin, which means that laughing could also help decrease hunger painsvi.

Relaxes the muscles and protects the heart

Laughter can cleanse your lungs, in a similar manner to deep-breathing, and replenishes oxygen and nutrient levels throughout your bodyv. A strong, jovial laugh can relieve tension, relaxing your muscles for up to 45 minutesvii.

People who laugh regularly have a lower standing blood pressure than the average personv. Having a healthy blood pressure can decrease your risk of a heart attack and other cardiovascular problemsviii,ix,x.

Boosts immunity and brain function

Clinical studies have shown that laughter increases infection-fighting antibodies and boosts the levels of key immunity cells such as white blood cellsv,xi,vi. This suggests that laughing can boost your immune system, keeping you healthier and improving your body's ability to fight off infectionsvi,xii.

Laughter can improve your immune system, memory and even decrease your risk of heart disease.

Laughter stimulates both the left and right sides of the brainv. It eases muscle tension and decreases psychological stress, keeping the brain alert and allowing you to retain more informationv. Laughter has also been shown to stimulate the frontal lobe area of the brain which improves your ability to think logically and make better decisionsxiii.

Smiles per hour

Port Phillip Council in Victoria has developed a creative initiative to capitalise on the health benefits of laughing and smilingiv. Road signs indicate the number of 'smiles per hour', measuring the friendliness of a particular neighbourhoodiv. The council hopes that the road signs will promote social cohesion, which has been shown to provide many health benefits to individualsiv.

Laughing and smiling can provide you with many health benefits, but overall it contributes to a sense of happiness. Happiness can lead to greater emotional connection and intimacy with other people, especially in close relationships.

i Kleiman, K 2012, 'Try Some Smile Therapy', Psychology Today, 31 July, viewed 25 October 2013,

ii 'Exercise and Depression' 2012, WebMD, viewed 25 October 2013,

iii Smith, J 2013, '7 Benefits of Smiling and Laughing that You Didn't Know About', Life Hack, 17 June, viewed 25 October 2013,

iv Tutchener, C, 'Smiles per hour: A City of Port Phillip Community Pulse Project', City of Port Phillip Council, viewed 25 October 2013,

v Whipple, C 2008, 'The Connection between Laughter, Humour, and Good Health', University of Kentucky, May, viewed 25 October 2013,

vi Hazell, K 2012, 'Smiling Can Lower Stress (Even if You're Not Feeling Happy) Health Benefits of Laughing PICTURES', Huffington Post, 19 September, viewed 28 October 2013,

vii Illinois State University 2011, Laughter More, Live Better, viewed 28 October 2013,

viii Smith, M and Segal, J 2013, 'Laughter is the Best Medicine', Help Guide, May, viewed 28 October 2013,

ix Better Health Channel, Victorian Government 2013, Heart disease and food, viewed 28 October 2013,

x Heart Foundation 2009, Positive steps to a healthy heart, viewed 28 October 2013,

xi Griffin, R.M. 2006, 'Give Your Body a Boost – With Laughter', WebMD, 10 April, viewed 25 October 2013,

xii Oakeshott, I 2003, 'Why laughter is the best cure', Daily Mail, 10 April, viewed 28 October 2013,

xiii Schwartz, B.P 2012, 'Laughter improves self-image, memory and heart health', Examiner, 10 March, viewed 28 October 2013,