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Laughing our way to a healthier future

Dr Aw headshot in a circle

Update from Dr. Aw

April 22, 2021

There is a patient in my practice that always makes me laugh. He is a grey-haired, retired businessman and proud grandfather who always delivers self-deprecating, one-line zingers with a dead pan face and raised eyebrow during our visits. He reminds me of the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who based his act on never getting any respect! Dangerfield would say one-liners like, “My wife was afraid of the dark… then she saw me naked and now she’s afraid of the light!”

Humour connects us as human beings. Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams was a physician, comedian and clown who incorporated laughter as therapy for patients and founded the Gesundheit! Institute in 1971. You may know him from when the late actor, and comedian, Robin Williams portrayed Dr. Patch Adams in a 1998 movie. Patch Adams brings humour to orphans, patients and caregivers around the world through volunteers that dress as clowns and practice laugh therapy.

There are many known health benefits from laughter:

  • Laughter releases endorphins and serotonin neurochemicals which make you feel good

  • Laughter strengthens social bonds, improves mood, emotional resiliency and stimulates brain connectivity.

  • Laughter is good for the heart: it’s an anti-inflammatory, lowers blood pressure and improves glucose tolerance 

  • Laughter is good for the immune system, decreases stress hormones and may help relieve pain.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Laughter is medicine!​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Laughter in the office

Laughter is also becoming a competitive advantage in the workplace. Stanford University now offers a course called “Humor: Serious Business.” Laughter improves engagement, wellbeing and fosters creativity and collaboration in the workplace.

Some of the findings from Stanford professors, Aaker and Bagdonas, include:

  • Leaders with a sense of humour are seen as 27% more motivating and admired. Their employees are 15% more engaged and their teams are more than twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge.

  • When pairs of strangers laughed together for five minutes before completing an exercise, their interactions were 30% more intimate than the control condition.

  • Workplaces that embedded humour in their culture said employees were 16% more likely to stay at their jobs, feel engaged and experience satisfaction.

​​​​​​​Studies during the pandemic are showing that workers miss socializing in the office and can feel disconnected if working remotely. We miss the casual collisions in the office that help to foster spontaneous shared moments of laughter and humour.

Laughter and Kids

Children seem to smile easily. It is almost impossible to not smile when you hear a child giggling and belly laughing. “Mirror neurons” are important in early child development as babies start to mimic facial and emotional responses to sensory stimuli. Smiling and laughter also activate mirror neurons in adults. Smiles and belly laughs are contagious!

Research has shown that children laugh about 400 times a day – while adults only laugh about 15 times a day. Daily laughter seems to decrease in the 20s and increases again over the age of 70! I never really thought about doing a daily laughter audit – but I guess it would be strange if I didn’t laugh once during any given day?

Your Laughter Prescription

MCET, (Motion Creates Emotion Theory) is based on the concept that the body doesn’t know the difference between intentionally laughing and spontaneous laughter. Both are good for you! Some academics have suggested a more scientific approach to prescribing laughter. Even the physical act of laughing can have positive psychological and physiological benefits. There are different types of Laugh Theories, which include:

  • genuine (“spontaneous”)

  • self-induced (“simulated”)

  • stimulated (e.g. tickling)

  • induced (i.e. drugs)

  • pathological (disorders of emotional expression due to brain damage).

There are other examples of prescriptive laugher:

  • Laughter Yoga developed in India is a form of self-induced or forced laughter group therapy.

  • One well designed study in Japan found that ‘laughter with exercise’ sessions in individuals over the age of 60 found led to an increase in self-rated health, improvement in bone density and improved blood sugars (decrease in HbA1C).

  • To combat loneliness, humanoid robots made in Japan and Hong Kong can recognize human emotion and may become companions for the lonely (particularly the elderly).

Laughter and humor are important for happiness and wellbeing. It is healthy to have a sense of humour and be open to moments of laughter. Give yourself permission to laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Levity is a great mindset.

Ask yourself, “What has made you laugh recently?” and “How often do you laugh?” Find time in your life for regular doses of laughter and humour. As reggae legend Bob Marley once said, “Love, friendship, laughter… some of the best things in life really are free.”


  1. Rodney Dangerfield Brainy Quote

  2. Patch Adams. Wikipedia.

  3. Humor, Seriously. Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas.

  4. Humor may be the surprising key to rebuilding trust—and reconnecting with coworkers again. Fortune 2021.;

  5. Healing Power of Laughter

  6. The Laughter Prescription The Laughter Prescription (

  7. Hirosaki M, Ohira T, Kajiura M, et al. Effects of a laughter and exercise program on physiological and psychological health among community-dwelling elderly in Japan: randomized controlled trial. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2013;13:152-160. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

  8. Stress relief from laughter? It's no joke - Mayo Clinic

  9. Laughter-inducing therapies: Systematic review and meta-analysis - ScienceDirect

  10. AI beats human at making you laugh

  11. Teaching robots to laugh.

  12. Ex Machina film​​​​​​​

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