14

This popular claim comes in different shapes, like:

  • a minute of laughter adds 5 minutes of life: source
  • laughter is the best medicine (maybe) source

Finding studies that confirm causation wasn't easy. I did stumble across this one which establishes correlation, but it's not obvious from this study whether laughter extended life, or to the contrary, those more likely to live (e.g. due to better health or emotional state) were also more likely to laugh.

So, does laughter prolong life by itself?

  • 3
    Anyone who claims that "xyz will add/remove x minutes of life" obviously cannot have any hard evidence... – nico Sep 28 '12 at 6:06
  • 1
    How many clowns live far past a century as compared to miserable people? Are older people more jolly? – Bart Silverstrim Oct 8 '12 at 13:29
  • For all we know, clowns might be really miserable... I don't think we can safely assume that a certain profession laughs much more than others, at least not without citing research. – RomanSt Oct 8 '12 at 16:46
  • @romkyns True, but I would expect a certain trend to appear. They laugh, despite the possibility they're miserable under the laughter. The question was just whether laughter prolonged life, not feelings of joy. – Bart Silverstrim Oct 8 '12 at 17:48
  • Maybe not, but one might enjoy it more while laughing. – user3344 Nov 4 '12 at 0:11
5

In 2001, a review of the literature tried to answer this question.

The study looked at many previous efforts to link laughter and good humour to analgesic effects, immune response and self-reported health.

In short, it found the results inconclusive, inconsistent or negative and the methodology lacking. It makes recommendations into how future trials could be better run.

From the abstract:

Empirical evidence for beneficial effects of humor and laughter on immunity, pain tolerance, blood pressure, longevity, and illness symptoms is then summarized. Overall, the evidence for health benefits of humor and laughter is less conclusive than commonly believed. Future research in this area needs to be more theoretically driven and methodologically rigorous.

From the conclusions:

Taken together, the empirical studies reviewed above provide little evidence for unique positive effects of humor and laughter on health-related variables. [...] In conclusion, despite the popularity of the idea that humor and laughter have significant health benefits, the current empircal evidence is generally weak and inconclusive. [...] this review does indicate that attempts to promote the therapeutic use of humor for purposes of improving physical health are premature and unwarranted by the current research evidence.

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