Recent research has supported a link between laughter, coping with stress, and psychological and physical well-being. According to this work, people who spontaneously use humor to cope with stress have especially healthy immune systems, are 40 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke, experience less pain during dental surgery, and live 4.5 years longer than most.
Participants were shown scenes from films that were likely either to make them feel anxious (such as the opening thirty minutes of Saving Private Ryan) or to make them laugh (such as the “orgasm” scene from When Harry Met Sally). Overall, participants’ blood flow dropped by around 35 percent after watching the stress-inducing films, but rose by 22 percent after seeing the more humorous material. On the basis of the results, the researchers recommend that people laugh for at least fifteen minutes each day.
In a similar vein, James Rotton examined the effects that watching different kinds of videos had on hospital patients recovering from orthopedic surgery. Patients in one group were asked to select funny films from a list that included Bananas, Naked Gun, and The Producers; those in another group were denied access to any material that might induce a smile, and they were instead asked to select movies from a “serious” list, including titles such as Die Hard II, Casablanca, and The Hunt for Red October. The experimenters secretly monitored the quantity of major pain relievers that the patients consumed via a self-controlled pump. Those watching funny films used about 60 percent fewer pain-relieving drugs than those looking at the serious movies. In an interesting twist to the experiment, the researchers also included another group of patients who were not allowed to select which comedy films to watch but instead were given the movies selected by others. This group administered significantly more drugs than either of the other groups, scientifically proving that there is nothing more painful than watching a comedy that doesn’t make you laugh.