Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Natural High of Laughter

Laughter: A Remedy for Stress

I recently attended a workshop by Dr. Matt Bellace at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He was recommended by a parent as a potential speaker on substance abuse at the school my children attend and just so happened to be speaking at Lynn, which is only a few miles from our school. So I and another PTA Board Member volunteered to go and see his presentation to determine if his material and presentation style would be a good fit for our students.

As luck would have it, the day of his workshop turned out to be one of those days from hell when just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. His presentation was scheduled for 7 pm. I was tired, and to add insult to injury, it had rained heavily the entire day, which didn't do much to boost my motivation or mood. As 6 pm rolled around, I was on the verge of canceling, thinking I'd really rather follow my stress-relieving advise (just say no) than listen to a workshop on substance abuse geared toward college students. But I had already committed to go, so I put a halt to my pity party and went-- thank goodness!

Not only was it not a workshop about substance abuse, his material was so funny, I actually left feeling refreshed and energized--the exact opposite of what I felt when I walked in. How did that happen? I laughed ... a lot.

Dr. Bellace is not only a clinical neuropsychologist, he's a stand-up comedian. How do those two professions fit together? Quite well actually.

Dr. Bellace's message is about getting high naturally, and he uses humor to get people to see that natural highs are better choices than chemical highs. He notes that one of the purest forms of natural highs is laughter--both giving and receiving it.

Here are a few facts and insights Dr. Bellace shares about the power of laughter.

  • When something is perceived as funny, the reward center of the brain is activated--the same area that is activated during cocaine-induced highs. In his book, A Better High,Dr. Bellace says, "I'm not going to argue that laughing is a more intense high than cocaine, but the brain knows how to balance a natural high. You will never hear, 'That movie was so funny last night, I'm hung over.' Laughter is a superior high on many levels."
  • He says that laughter's superiority over drug highs is that drugs damage the reward center of the brain by forcing the brain to release dopamine based on the dose the drug user is giving it whereas the amount of dopamine released during a natural high doesn't damage the brain. He points out that over time the forced release caused by drugs decreases a drug user's ability to get high whereas natural highs don't.
  • Dr. Bellace says that laughter releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which serves as a reward for the brain, creates a sense of euphoria, and plays a pivotal role in our motivation to continue the behavior.
  • Dr. Bellace notes that the benefits of laughter include improved immune functioning, stress relief, increased tolerance for pain, improved cardiovascular health, reduced anxiety, and improved mood.

So why not try it? What can it hurt (aside from your face)?

Laugh as hard and as often as possible. Watch comedies, Read funny books. Share funny stories. Go see your favorite comedian. Create your own comedy night with friends. Surround yourself with funny people. It will lift your spirits, reduce your stress, and boost your energy.

For more information about natural highs, check out Dr. Bellace's book, A Better High: How Eating, Laughing and Other Stuff Can Get You High Naturally, Everyday, 2nd Ed. 2011 (New Jersey: Winter Oak Press).

© 2011 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved

Follow Dr. Bourg Carter on Facebook and Twitter.

Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2011).

More from Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D.
More from Psychology Today