Humanity | MPI Philosophy

Fun And Enjoyment

In simple terms, Fun is the enjoyment of pleasure. It is usually a brief, informal experience. It can often be totally purposeless. If it has any purpose it is purely to experience enjoyment. The distinction between enjoyment and fun may be small but fun tends to be more spontaneous or playful. 

Laughter

Did you know that laughter can support the immune system, improve blood pressure, stimulate the organs, and reduce pain? This is a brief summary of the benefits of laughter:

  • Decreasing stress. It’s difficult to worry about whatever is going on in your daily routine when one of your friends is telling you a funny story in a bar. according to research by Pattillo and Itano Levels of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine tend to decrease during bouts of laughter. These hormones can suppress the immune system and make the body more vulnerable to infections and illnesses. Physical and emotional stress can also cause prolactin, insulin, thyroid, and other hormones to end up out of balance 
  • Coping skills. Feeling helpless is a significant source of stress. Most of us are not prepared for unexpected negative events such as losing a job or losing a loved one. Although there may be a period where laughing feels inappropriate, you will naturally feel the urge to laugh when you spontaneously see or hear something funny and, this is your body’s way of telling you, that it’s time to move on and an important part of moving on from the past is enjoying the present, so go ahead and laugh.
  • Improve blood flow and blood pressure. Research by Pattillo and Itano indicates that laughter can lower or balance blood pressure and increase vascular blood flow. The University of Maryland conducted a study linking laughter to cardiovascular health. The results indicated that laughter seemed to cause the endothelium, tissue that makes up the lining of blood vessels, to expand, allowing for better blood flow. This is significant because the endothelium plays an important part in protecting blood vessels from atherosclerosis (thickening of the arteries).
  • It’s a brief episode of exercise. According to research by Godfrey, laughing 100 times is equivalent to 10 minutes on a rowing machine or 15 minutes on a stationary bicycle. In addition to the burst of internal energy, laughter can also temporarily clear the respiratory system. In the same way that the physical effort involved with exercise causes people to take the press, the same is true during heavy laughter. It helps to unclog airways and enhances inhalation and oxygen intake. 
  • Improve blood sugar levels. In a study by Hayashi et al, a group of people with type 2 diabetes and another group without the disease ate a meal then attended a boring lecture. On the next day, the subjects ate the same meal again but this time they joined the audience at a comedy show. Researchers found that blood glucose levels in the subjects didn’t increase after the meal for diabetic patients at the comedy show. Researchers suggest that this may be because laughter impacts the neuroendocrine system and restrains blood sugar levels from spiking or it may cause the acceleration of glucose use by muscle motion.
  • Improving social skills. Many scientists believe laughter allows humans to connect, bond, and communicate with each other. The more comfortable you feel with someone else, the easier it becomes to laugh. Research conducted by  Brain, Recker indicates that people are 30 times more likely to laugh in social settings than if they were alone.
  • Introduces aggression. Research by McGhee] indicates that releasing negative emotions, like aggression, fear, or anger, in a positive way through laughter provides important psychological benefits. Laughter also relaxes muscles. 

How does laughter to work? Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford, suggests that the reason is not the intellectual pleasure of cerebral humor, but the physical act of laughing. The muscular exertions involved in producing the laugh triggers an increase in endorphins in the brain – a chemical known for its feel-good effect.

“Laughter is very weird stuff, actually,” Dr. Dunbar said. “That’s why we got interested in it.” The results of his research and others indicate that laughter also contributes to group bonding and may have been important in the evolution of highly social humans. Dr. Dunbar suggests that social laughter is “grooming at a distance” – an activity that fosters closeness in a group.

Dr. Dunbar conducted five studies in the laboratory and one field study at a comedy performance where he and his colleagues tested resistance to pain both before and after bouts of social laughter. The pain came from a freezing wine sleeve slipped over a forearm, an ever-tightening blood pressure cuff, or an excruciating ski exercise. The results eliminated the possibility that the pain resistance measured was the result of a general sense of well being rather than actual laughter. Dr. Dunbar said, they also provided a partial answer to the ageless conundrum of whether we laugh because we feel giddy or feel giddy because we laugh. “The causal sequence is laughter triggers endorphin activation,” he said. 

Robert R. Provine, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County said he thought the study was “a significant contribution” to a field of study that dates back 2,000 years or so.

It has not always focused on the benefits of laughter. Both Plato and Aristotle, Dr. Provine said, were concerned with the power of laughter to undermine authority. And he noted that the ancients were very aware that laughter could accompany raping and pillaging as well as a comic tale told by the hearth.

Dr. Dunbar, however, was concerned with relaxed, contagious social laughter, not the tyrant’s cackle or the “polite titter” of awkward conversation. He said a classic example would be the dinner at which everyone else speaks a different language and someone makes an apparently hilarious but incomprehensible comment. “Everybody falls about laughing, and you look a little puzzled for about three seconds, but really you just can’t help falling about laughing yourself.”

To test the relationship of laughter of this sort to pain resistance, Dr. Dunbar did a series of six experiments. In five, participants watched excerpts of comedy videos, neutral videos, or videos meant to promote good feeling but not laughter.

Among the comedy videos were excerpts from “The Simpsons,” “Friends” and “South Park,” as well as from performances by standup comedians like Eddie Izzard. The neutral videos included “Barking Mad,” a documentary on pet training, and a golfing program. The positive but unfunny videos included excerpts from shows about nature, like the “Jungles” episode of “Planet Earth.”

In the lab experiments, the participants were tested before and after seeing different combinations of videos. They suffered the frozen wine sleeve or the blood pressure cuff in different experiments and were asked to say when the pain reached a point they could not stand. They wore recorders during the videos so that the time they spent laughing could be established. In the one real-world experiment, similar tests were conducted at performances of an improvisational comedy group, the Oxford Imps.

The results, when analyzed, showed that laughing increased pain resistance, whereas simple good feeling in a group setting did not. Pain resistance is used as an indicator of endorphin levels because their presence in the brain is difficult to test; the molecules would not appear in blood samples because they are among the brain chemicals that are prevented from entering circulating blood by the so-called blood-brain barrier.

Dr. Dunbar thinks laughter may have been favored by evolution because it helped bring human groups together, the way other activities like dancing and singing do. Those activities also produce endorphins, he said, and physical activity is important in them as well. “Laughter is an early mechanism to bond social groups,” he said. “Primates use it.”

Indeed, apes are known to laugh, although in a different way than humans. They pant. “Panting is the sound of rough-and-tumble play,” Dr. Provine said. It becomes a “ritualization” of the sound of play. And in the course of the evolution of human beings, he suggests, “Pant, pant becomes ha, ha.”

Next article in this series: “Impact”

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