Smile—A Sense of Humor Might Help You Live Longer

May 15, 2015

Whether it’s an episode of ‘Friends’ you’ve seen 11 times or a Facebook post of a kitten tumbling off a desk, we all have things that send us into peals of laughter. But could that sense of humor actually be lengthening your life?

A Norwegian researcher found that people who find life funny outlive those who don’t, and this difference is especially noticeable in cancer patients. So laughing at a few more knock-knock jokes or taking pleasure in a pun might actually help you live longer.

Sven Svebak of the medical school at Norwegian University of Science and Technology tracked 54,000 Norwegians for seven years and found that the more humor played a role in their lives, the more likely they were to survive the seven year span.

Overall, the adults who scored highest for humor appreciation were 35 percent more likely to be alive at the end of the study than those who scored lowest. In a subgroup of adults diagnosed with cancer, a good sense of humor cut someone’s chances of death by almost 70 percent.

So what exactly does humor do biologically that causes this difference? Svebak thinks it changes the way we react to bad news.

“Humor works like a shock absorber in a car,” he told USA Today. “You appreciate a good shock absorber when you go over bumps, and cancer is a big bump in life.”

Of course, this isn’t to say that making a few jokes here and there can cure chronic illnesses, or shrink cancerous tumors. Cancer, AIDS, Alzheimers, and other as-yet-incurable diseases unfortunately don’t discriminate between happy people and grumpy people. Where humor might play a factor, however, is in a patient’s optimism and determination to get healthy.

Though William Breitbart, psychiatry chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said he was “skeptical” of humor’s affect on health, he did point out that a patient who could make light of a painful or uncomfortable treatment like chemotherapy might be more likely to stick it out longer, and benefit more from the longer treatment.

In fact, past research has shown that humor helps relieve stress, and even stimulates your organs, because you take in so much oxygen when you laugh. Sharing a laugh can also help you connect with another person, and who knows, maybe even make a new friend.

Feeling happy and living longer? What’s not to like?

Illustration by Karley Koenig

This article is related to:

Happiness, Healthy Habits, Mental Health

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.


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