Laughter Is the Best Medicine: The Benefits of Laughing, Especially During Tough Times

10.15.23 09:55 PM By Peak Mind


What made you laugh today? How often do you laugh? When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried? 

When life is going well, I tend to laugh easily and often. So when I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard I cried, it's a sign that things aren't optimal. When I'm feeling antsy and bored, when my hours are consumed with work and my conversations center around serious topics, even if intellectually stimulating or otherwise meaningful, when I find myself longing for an overdue vacation and the change in routine and mindset it promises, these are all signs.

I am learning that, while some time on a beach may be exactly what this doctor ordered, there are other, more immediate changes that can help. I am noticing that what I really need is an injection of fun, of lighthearted laughing and levity. 

In the face of continued burnout* and horrific conditions and violence on a global stage, it may seem insensitive or off topic of me to talk about laughing. 

But, my friend, it is very intentional. 

You see, I just can't bring myself to write another "the world is heavy" or "life is hard" post (skip to the end for links to those kinds). It's not that those statements are untrue; it's just that I've written so many of those over the past couple of years. I need to come at things from a different angle this time.

And I bet you do, too.


Laughter Is the Best Medicine

I've long been a fan of dark humor as a coping strategy, though I've learned over the years that it's not for everyone and to censor that particular brand of humor outside of certain of circles. But humor in general - and the laughter it provokes - are actually really good medicine. 

A good laugh is like a good salve for the soul.

And your brain.

And your body.

During trying times, whether that's in the face of burnout or prolonged stress, crisis in your community, or even just a challenging day at work, laughter brings immense and immediate benefits. 

I say it's beyond time that we all take a dose of this natural medicine. 


The Benefits of Laughing

The effects of laughter are wide-reaching and positive. If you know me, you know I'm not a fan of the distinction between physical and mental health because the division seems blurry at best. Side-stepping that soapbox for today, the positive effects of laughter include both psychological and physiological ones. That is, laughing is good for both your mind and your body. 

Laughter is an excellent stress reliever. Stress is a complex phenomenon that includes physical and mental changes that occur when our stress response is activated. The big picture take away here is that laughing helps counteract the stress response. 

A good laugh also brings with it:

  • boost in mood, including reduced anxiety and depression
  • Increased optimism 
  • Lowered levels of cortisol, the stress hormone
  • The release of endorphins
  • Enhanced social bonding and connection
  • Higher resilience
  • Heightened creativity
  • Increased pain tolerance
  • Relief from muscle tension and a state of relaxation
  • Improved immune system functioning
  • Heart health benefits similar to exercise

The bottom line is that laughter is free, accessible, and has no side effects, so take it daily and as needed.


Your Laughter Prescription

As I was researching the benefits of laughter to confirm what I intuitively knew - that it's good for you - I came across an article in a scientific journal that suggested that physicians should prescribe it as a therapy. I say, heal thyself! Prescribe your own laughter medicine

Intentionally seek out opportunities to laugh or share a laugh with someone (like my friend who sporadically sends me those dark humor videos that he knows are going to crack me up). Watch a show. Tell a joke. Call to mind a humorous memory. Play a prank. Spend time with people who tickle you, literally or figuratively. Get weird. Fake it til you make it (laughter, that is).

Laughter can be spontaneous - like when something unexpectedly tickles your funny bone and you can't help but giggle - or manufactured, meaning you make yourself laugh on purpose (like laughter yoga, where the idea is to force yourself to start and continue laughing and until the fake stuff turns into the real deal). Either way, it's good for you.

Note that laughter does not deny reality or ignore any hardship that is occurring. I'm also not suggesting that we use humor or laughter inappropriately, in ways that minimize or devalue someone's pain (including our own). Rather, it is about finding ways to be resilient so that you can weather the storm and come out the other side. 

So let's go full circle here. What made you laugh today? How often do you laugh? When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried? 

Take action, my friend, and find ways to make the answers to those questions: a lot, often, and just a little while ago.

* A new study just came out showing that 52% of therapists - the ones who help the ones who are struggling - have battled burnout this year. Yikes.

Other posts for guidance and inspiration on getting through difficult times:

I See Your Pain

What to Do When the World Feels Heavy

What to Do When Life Gives You Ick: Coping with Hard Things


"Laughter heals all wounds, and that’s one thing that everybody shares. No matter what you’re going through, it makes you forget about your problems. I think the world should keep laughing.” – Kevin Hart

Dr. Ashley Smith photo

Written by Dr. Ashley Smith

Peak Mind Co-founder

Peak Mind

Peak Mind Co-founders Peak Mind: The Center for Psychological Strength