Can Laughter Strengthen Your Immune System? Here’s what science says.

Meet the new, the interesting, the unexpected and the wow! it is embedded in our brain. Not only are the surprise, interest, amusement, and awe-struck emotions of wonder quite pleasurable, they also bring great benefits. While all positive emotions motivate us to broaden our horizons, these are especially powerful in inspiring us to explore, learn, and connect with others and the greater world.

Emotions of wonder often involve a breach of expectations when you encounter something you don’t expect or that leaves you clueless or speechless. This not knowing prepares you for serious intellectual gains.

Some experts, like Robert Fuller, professor of religious studies at Bradley University, see these emotions as the engine behind some of the great minds of our world. Astonishment and curiosity about the physical world prompted Sir Isaac Newton to study and discover the laws that govern our universe. A sense of awe for space exploration inspired engineer Yvonne Brills’ pioneering work on propulsion systems for rockets.

Here’s a closer look at the wonderful emotions that enrich our lives.


Surprise and shock live on the same spectrum: While shock may be accompanied by fear, surprise triggers interest and improves memory, learning, and concentration.

Surprise can be transformative, leading us to change our beliefs and behaviors. Some psychologists say surprise can also amplify any anticipated emotion you feel alongside it. You may feel happy on your birthday at the thought of having dinner with your friends, but your happiness will increase when you are surprised by a big party (if you like surprise parties). Experts distinguish surprise from emotions such as amazement in part by the fact that surprise is often easily explained. Awefully, there may not be an obvious explanation.

The hippocampus, known as the brain’s novelty detector, is involved in surprise. Compare new incoming knowledge with information already stored (memory) and release the pleasure and reward chemical dopamine along with norepinephrine (norepinephrine) if it identifies novelty. Studies show that brains like it: Monkeys that expect a reward show that dopamine neurons fire, but when they don’t expect a reward and receive one, those neurons fire even more.


Some experts consider interest to be the first emotion, as seen in a newborn’s wide-eyed attention to a parent’s face. Research from the Netherlands has revealed that curiosity can have two sides: a positive one, a desire that anticipates the pleasure of discovering the unknown, and a negative one, a hunger for knowledge that is not satisfied (like children waiting impatiently to unwrap holiday presents that have been sitting out for weeks).

Among the benefits of interest is that it leads to learning (especially when followed by surprise). Curious students participate more, enjoy learning more, and score higher academically; the same goes for adults in the workplace.

Research also finds that people who feel more interest are more likely to report higher levels of positive emotions; more positive evaluations of oneself, the world and the future; more life satisfaction; and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Interest is also related to empathy, and people who are empathetic are more likely to be curious about others and want to connect.

Interest is hardwired into our brains via reward-seeking systems: Novelty activates dopamine, a reward-craving neurochemical that drives us to seek out the answer; when we discover the answer, we feel satisfaction and often want to try harder to continue the cycle.


Amusement, generally defined as an emotion of happiness evoked by humor, helps us socialize (we bond over shared laughter), learn (it arouses interest, especially in children, who learn through play), and self-soothe. Fun has its own facial expression head tilted back, mouth in a parted smile separated from contentment and happiness. And it has its own physiological profile: a slight rise in blood pressure reflecting the tension at the heart of humor and play, and a lowering of the heart rate, perhaps because it activates the calming system.

Oddly enough, laughter isn’t just about humor. Research finds that we laugh 30 times more often with others than when we were alone, and not just because we joked. Scientists theorize that laughter is a signal that communicates agreement, affiliation and affection, all to strengthen the social bond.

We laugh in response to unfunny statements from our interlocutors and in response to other people’s laughter, something called antiphonal laughter. And the urge to laugh with others can engage mirror neurons (this mirroring occurs for both laughter and yawning). We also laugh while having a conversation, in fact, people are more likely to laugh when they speak than to listen.

The ability to produce and experience enjoyment can help us repress a negative emotion, a type of emotion regulation. If we focus on what might be fun in a distressing situation, we can change our perspective and relieve stress. Laughter is indeed good medicine: it is linked to improved cardiovascular health, pain relief and immune system function.


You know awe when you experience it: watching the sunset, being at a sporting event with 10,000 other fans, experiencing a spiritual ritual. Scientists like awe researcher Dacher Keltner, co-director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley, define awe as the emotion that occurs when your expectations are washed out of water.

Awe transcends understanding and usually involves pleasure, although it can involve fear, such as when witnessing a tornado. We can feel it when we are alone, but more often we experience awe in groups. The relatively new study of this emotion has yielded extraordinary discoveries. It is linked to strong relationships, makes people turn attention outside of themselves and feel more connected. And so, amazement has a survival purpose: it binds individuals to the group, whether in ideology (a political party), goals (a team), cultural identity, or circumstance (survivors of a flood unite). This social aspect can have a dark side, however, pushing people to join fringe groups or cults.

Awe is also good for your health: A 2015 study found that, out of seven positive emotions, awe is most strongly linked to low levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, an inflammatory response involved in chronic diseases like heart disease and depression. Pro-inflammatory cytokines may be beneficial if they have been harmed, but if chronically released due to negative emotions, they can cause harm.

Survival strategy

Emotions are very complex and operate on many levels: through our facial and body movements, our autonomic nervous system (which controls involuntary functions such as heart rate and breathing), our somatic nervous system (which involves the five senses and voluntary muscle movements) and in our conscious and subconscious minds. But one thing is clear: Emotions help us enjoy, make sense of, and survive this world.

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