Do not be overcome by aggressive and hostile humor, hurtful, derogatory and self-destructive. Instead, take advantage of the benefits of open, happy, lighthearted laughter, which facilitates communication and friendly integration and makes us more tolerant.
The truth is that there are strong arguments, because laughter not only benefits us emotionally and/or psychologically, but also physiologically. Among other things, it positively influences our cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine, muscular, nervous and immune systems.
Without going any further, it has been shown that laughing helps combat the immunosuppressive effects of stress, reducing the level of cortisol in the blood. At the same time, it activates T cells, which provides the immune system with lymphocytes to fight against harmful substances.
To this is added that laughter favors the production of salivary immunoglobulin A, an essential protein to combat infectious diseases. Without forgetting that humor also stimulates the release of endorphins, our endogenous opioids, giving us a pleasant feeling of well-being.
Problems in perspective
If at this point it is not clear to you why a sense of humor is serious, here is another argument: it can help us manage distorted thoughts and cognitive suffering, worries and fears. By moderating emotions and allowing ourselves to distance ourselves from negative events, we can face problems from other perspectives. In addition to that, with distance, it is easier for us to establish new connections between apparently unrelated concepts and thoughts.
In fact, people who perceive positive emotions tend to show more cognitive flexibility, which allows them to seek more creative and resourceful solutions to solve problems. It is so evident that some authors advocate including a sense of humor in the teaching-learning process as an enhancer of creative thinking.
Are you very serious? Do your friends tell you that you have no sense of humor? Don’t worry because this cognitive function can be learned and practiced, just like other brain skills. In a way it is like a program that comes pre-installed in our brain, but we need to activate it and use it.
In the same way, certain changes in the mental and neural capacity of the person can ruin the sense of humor. A couple of decades ago, difficulty in understanding humor was related to frontal damage to the right hemisphere, linked to personality, self-awareness, and problem solving.
In another very interesting brain imaging study, researchers found that understanding comic strips increased neural activity in left temporal areas related to language comprehension. But also in mesolimbic dopaminergic nuclei, such as the nucleus accumbens, whose functions include the integration of motivation with motor action, fear, addiction or laughter.
More years, less laughs
With age, the ability to produce and understand humor decreases, and we laugh less. Experts attribute it to a decrease in cognitive flexibility, abstract reasoning and immediate memory.
The dementia and humor are also related. A recent study suggests that people with dementia have difficulty understanding humorous stimuli, adopt childlike humorous behaviors (probably because they are more familiar to them) and present a mismatch between the emission of humor and the context. This cognitive deterioration also makes it difficult to understand satirical stimuli, graphic humor and those stories that require putting oneself in the place of the protagonist to understand why a situation is funny.
Along these same lines, people with major depression show difficulties in processing the cognitive and affective components of humor, including the ability to put themselves in another person’s place, which can affect social interactions. These people also show poorer performance on tasks of inhibition, verbal fluency, and working memory.
It seems indisputable that enhancing humor helps to increase our well-being, self-esteem and identity and to better cope with possible fears and insecurities and negative situations. Put it into practice and you will improve your quality of life. Just don’t get discouraged if you’re not as successful as you’d hoped: people around you may not understand your sense of humor.
Carmen Noguera Cuenca, Professor of the Department of Psychology/ Basic Psychology. Research group HUM-891 Research in Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Almeria and José Manuel Cimadevilla, Professor of Psychobiology, Health Research Center, University of Almeria
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.
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