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Why Laughing at Yourself Can Boost Your Health

The ability to laugh at your mistakes (and yourself) boosts your physical and psychological health.

It’s happened to everyone: you walk down the street, trip, stumble and fall. Assuming you aren’t seriously injured, you might peer around to see who bore witness to your foible and either a) be completely embarrassed and horrified that you took a tumble in public or b) have a good laugh at yourself, dust yourself off and resume whatever it was you were doing.

The world seems to be divided between two types of people — those who find it easy to laugh at themselves, and those who take themselves a little too seriously. Believe it or not, the science of good health tilts in favor of those who crack up when they fall. As it turns out, the ability to laugh at yourself is not only a healthy attitude — it’s a healthy attribute.

Not Taking Ourselves Too Seriously Benefits Our Mental Health

A 2011 study referenced in Time examined a group of people's reactions to funhouse mirror images of themselves, and the findings revealed those who laughed most frequently at images of themselves showed "fewer signs of fake smiles or negative emotion." The study’s author, Ursula Beermann, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Innsbruck, says the ability or proclivity not to take yourself too seriously also can mean you’re prepared to “acknowledge that you are not the center of the universe.”

“Adaptive humor,” such as cheering people up or seeing the humor in negative events, is connected to well-being and psychological health.

Aside from authenticity and a healthy awareness of others, Dr. Beermann says those who don’t take themselves too seriously can step back and look at themselves, or mistakes they have made, from an outside perspective. She’s also careful to acknowledge the difference between laughing at yourself and putting yourself down, or laughter at another’s expense, which isn’t so healthy. “Adaptive humor,” such as cheering people up or looking for the funny side in rather negative events, is connected to well-being and psychological health in a myriad of ways.

4 Other Ways Laughing At Yourself Makes You Healthier

Dr. Beermann says her study showed that people who can laugh at themselves tend to be more prone to “feeling good and worrying less.” People who worry less are less prone to chronic stress. Chronic stress cranks up the natural fight-or-flight hormonal system in our bodies, which has long been linked to many emotional and physical health issues, including headaches, heart disease, digestive issues, anxiety and depression, according to the Mayo Clinic.

1. It’s good for your heart — literally

A 2009 study conducted by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore revealed that laughing, along with an “active sense of humor,” can protect against a heart attack and prevent heart disease. According to the study, people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease — a little more evidence that lightening up can lengthen your life span.

2. It means you can can handle life better

Dr. Beermann says happier people are also more resilient, meaning they can better handle life when things don’t go their way. “According to (Swiss humor expert from the University of Zurich) Dr. Willibald Ruch, a cheerful person seems to be more resilient against negative events, and is more able to face adversities in life with a smile,” she says. What’s more, a study from the Harvard University Center of the Developing Child says though resilience is borne of both nature and nurture, the stress experienced by less resilient people produces chemicals in the body that cause inflammation. Chronic inflammation can lead to a variety of illnesses, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, cancer, dementia and depression. “Given the centrality of inflammation to multiple diseases, the fact that early life adversity is associated with elevated inflammatory responses suggests that toxic stress increases the probability of lifelong health impairments,” the study says. Though the study was targeted at young children, toxic stress causes inflammation in adults, too.

Science says the more you laugh, the better you remember.

3. You can manage pain better

We’ve established that laughing at yourself indicates resilience. And a recent study published in the Journal of Pain demonstrated that higher resilience is associated with a higher pain threshold in otherwise healthy adults. Another article in Scientific American attributes the endorphins released during laughter to pain relief.

4. It boosts your short-term memory

Science says the more you laugh, the better you remember. Loma Linda University researchers conducted a study examining the stress levels and short term memory of 20 healthy adults in their 60s and 70s. They asked one group to sit in silence without means of communication, and let the other group watch funny videos. Wouldn’t you know it, the “humor group” had “much higher improvement” in the ability to remember things, 43.6 percent, compared with 20.3 percent in the other group. Additionally, the humor group had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol floating around their systems, while the other group only showed a slight drop in their stress levels.

So the next time you take a tumble or trip on the sidewalk, have a laugh. You’ll be all the healthier for it!