As a kid, you laughed at everything. Silly jokes. Funny faces. Farts, or anything that remotely sounded like one. You had deep belly laughs, the kind which let you fall fully into the hilarity of the situation.
But as you got older, you probably started to find things less funny. While babies manage to pack in an average of 300 laughs per day, adults laugh a meager 20 times. Though we drop LOLs and cry-laughing emojis in our messages with abandon, and view humor as a character strength, the amount of real laughter we experience has dwindled.
It’s hard to know exactly why, as laughter is difficult to study. Perhaps it’s because people laugh more while in the company of others, and we are often alone — or perhaps it’s because we’re denying our darker impulses. But the act of joyous laughter matters more than we think.
When it comes to our health, laughing reduces stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine, increases our blood flow and tolerance for pain, and strengthens our immune system by enhancing our T-cell function and boosting the number of antibody-producing cells. (Even the anticipation of something funny has been shown to boost endorphins by 27%.) Laughter also strengthens ties within groups. As cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte explained, “the more laughter, the more bonding.”
Even though many of us grow out of the habit as we age, it’s possible to recover the humor you’re missing from your life. Here’s how.
Start counting how often you laugh
Keep track over a week or so, monitoring how often you laugh, and what prompts your laughter. While it might feel awkward, improving anything in your life requires you to know where you’re starting. Do it the same way you’d count how many glasses of water you drink or document your bad habits.
When I did this, I realized I laughed around 10 times per day when I was on my own, and closer to 30 or 40 times per day when with other people. Once you know your patterns, you can start taking practical steps to laugh more.
Laugh at your own mistakes
One of the funniest sources of humor can be your own small mistakes. For example, I was recently texting my friends, telling them I was on my way and ready to drink. However, I accidentally typed that I was “ready to sin.” Seeing other people “laugh” in the group chat triggered an audible laugh from me, too.
Research and share a funny joke
While it’s great when other people or situations make you laugh, sometimes you have to be the one to get the ball rolling. There’s no shame in purposefully looking up jokes, memes, funny headlines, or gifs that you find funny and sharing them with others. Professional comedians spend their time actively working on their craft, so you can do the same. You might check out a satire news outlet like the Onion or sites dedicated to puns (“What did the prescriptivist owl say? Whom whom”).
Spend time with friends
We laugh 30 times more often with others than we do when we’re by ourselves. That’s why when you go to a comedy show, you’re much more likely to find the jokes thigh-slappingly hilarious than you would if you watched the act on Netflix while alone in bed. (Another fun fact: laughing gas doesn’t make you laugh when taken in solitude.) This is because laughter is one of the primary social cues we have with others — we use it as a tool to communicate, diffuse tension, assert our social hierarchy, and make friends. So simply by being around people that you’re comfortable with, you have more opportunities to laugh.
As Steve Martin said, “A day without laughter is like a day without sunshine, and a day without sunshine is like… night.”
Cue the chuckles. Laughter is one of the most basic tools at our disposal to live a healthier, happier life — something a LOL will never be able to replace.
Zulie Rane is a reader and a writer who believes in the power to change the world through the written word. You can find her writing on ZulieRane.com, posting selfies and art on Instagram at @zulierane and tweeting bad puns on Twitter at @zulierane.
Image courtesy of Jeryd Gillum.