Ever heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine?” More and more studies have come out showing the importance of laughter, despite living in a seemingly serious world. According to research, the average child laughs 300 to 500 times a day, while the average adult laughs only 15 times per day. Obviously, we could use more laughter in this world, because no harm comes from too much laughing. People who laugh more often have been shown to have better health overall, and display a more upbeat, carefree mood.
In the unprecedented study referenced above, Ursula Beermann of the University of California, Berkeley, and Willibald Ruch of the University of Zurich studied 70 psychology students to measure their tendency to laugh at themselves or not. The findings of this study lend further evidence to the fact that having the ability to laugh at oneself can create the foundation for a good sense of humor, optimistic, energetic personality, and even better overall health.
The volunteers in the study had to rate their ability to see the humor in the problems they faced in daily life. The researchers also asked one or two friends to rate each person on the same characteristic. While the students filled our the questionnaires, a camera mounted on the wall secretly took photos of each participant’s face. The researchers then distorted the pictures using Mac PhotoBooth software, in order to make them look like the faces you’d see in a funhouse mirror.
This is where the experiment really gets good: the volunteers then had to rate the images of people they didn’t know. Their own pictures were part of the sequence, as well. The participants were videotaped as they looked at their own images, in order to see whether they laughed at themselves. Afterwards, researchers analyzed the data using a highly rated system of emotional expression, in order to gauge the authenticity of the volunteer’s expressions.
The results came in with 80% of the participants genuinely laughing or smiling at themselves when they saw their picture. Also, the volunteers who claimed to have the ability to laugh at themselves – and whose friends vouched for this statement – laughed and smiled more frequently and intensely than the others.
Additionally, people’s perspective about how easily they could laugh at themselves didn’t quite match up with their friends’ ratings, which implies that people overestimate their tendency to laugh at themselves, or that they would like people to think they laugh at themselves easily.
Interestingly, the study found no link between how much people laughed at their own images and how often and hard they laughed at the distorted images of others, which means that the ability to laugh at oneself is an inborn, distinct characteristic. It depends on one’s own personality, rather than just people’s ability to laugh at silly pictures.
The participants in the study who laughed at themselves more also had a more cheerful, upbeat personality, and seemed less serious. Also, researchers observed that they seemed in a better mood on the day of the experiment compared to others who didn’t laugh at themselves as often.
Although this study might not seem to indicate much or serve as a particularly vital piece of history, it actually sheds a light on the link between personality and health. People who have a more light-hearted, optimistic approach to life have been proven to be healthier overall, as laughter and a positive outlook can lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease, and keep depression at bay, among many other important health benefits.
Also, understanding certain jokes requires a particular set of social skills that people with certain conditions, such as autism and schizophrenia, often don’t develop. Studying the ins and outs of humor can therefore help scientists better understand how the brains work of people with mental and physical handicaps, which can help all of us communicate better in the end.
More than anything, this study should remind us to laugh more often, and not get caught up in the seriousness of life that brings so many of us down. While situations and events can seem like life or death in the moment, you will likely look back on your day and think how much energy you wasted worrying about certain things. So, if you haven’t yet laughed today, hopefully this will remind you to get your daily dose(s) of laughter, and encourage you to adopt a more carefree approach to life. I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes that seems simple enough, but holds so much truth:
“Don’t take life too seriously; no one makes it out alive anyway.” – Van Wilder