Laughter and the Nervous System


"I'm laughing cause I know it's funny not because I feel it's funny."

There's a difference between thinking something is funny from feeling it in your belly. Feeling something is funny often comes with a whole body experience. The laughter erupts from within.

As our activation increases, it's not unusual to lose our capacity for spontaneous laughter. Those folks who notice the difference in themselves might say they are "tapped out" or "I don't feel like myself".

However, some folks never had the ability for a good laugh to begin with.


The field of counseling will finally reach it's highest potential when people enter therapy because they feel they don't laugh enough in their lives.

Now wouldn't that be a switch!

You may be surprised to learn that not everyone can spontaneously laugh nor can everyone experience a belly laugh. This depends to a large degree on the capacity of the nervous system to handle the activation necessary for such a physical response.

And, to a large degree, the capacity depends on the neuropathways that were probably laid down in infancy. The good news is that we can enhance this capacity.

Laughter keeps your nervous system healthy.

If you've ever watched a funny movie and later felt a warm, tingling feeling all over your body then you were likely discharging. You see laughter is an ideal means of discharge.

Laughter is believed to be a right brain activity with the capacity to help us feel balanced. One way that it does so is via discharge.

As you may have read elsewhere on this site, a healthy nervous system can manage energy well. That is, the nervous system becomes energized via stimulation (i.e. it becomes activated) and then it discharges the energy accordingly. We move through cycles of activation and discharge naturally and efficiently (if we have a healthy nervous system) all day long.

Inappropriate laughter?

When we're charged up inside, laughter serves a useful purpose. It discharges pent up energy.

Have you ever noticed how a comic gets his or her laughs? They do so by drawing us into feelings of embarrassment. The scenarios they describe typically trigger feelings of shame. And as I have explained elsewhere, shame is accompanied by a surge in activation.

Laughter is the discharge. It is the natural way our body lets go of the heightened energy.

If you find yourself laughing at inappropriate times, you will find this habit easier to control when you work on calming your nervous system.

Here's an interesting tidbit from neuroscience:

The parasympathetic nervous system is usually in charge of laughter (however a nervous laugh is probably a sympathetic nervous system activity). As you may recall the parasympathetic nervous system takes care of bringing our energy down i.e. contentment, peacefulness etc. but also despair, grief etc.

My Personal Musings

It's been my clinical experience that once the nervous system is reset i.e. it is self-regulating, the parasympathetic downregulation is less likely to trigger negative moods.

I can't express enough how huge this ides is in terms of how we approach mental health. This site was, in part, inspired by this very notion.

The new therapies available (especially right-brain-based therapies e.g. body psychotherapy) more readily utilize the positive aspects of our lives but not in a mindless magical thinking sort of way. They do so from a way of directly changing how the nervous system responds.

"Healthy, natural humor comes out of our shared humanity: our frailties, pain, the tension of relationships, the paradoxical chatter of our mind." (


"What is laughter? It is the glorious sound of a soul waking up." (Hafiz)

Laughter Yoga Now this is a resource. If you have one of these clubs in your neighborhood I'd encourage you to drop in.

It's my hunch that laughter yoga is a great way to develop regulated neuropathways. The more regulated pathways you have, the better you're able to process energy. The better you are at processing energy the better you manage stress (remember stress is felt in your body) and increase the feeling of joy in your life.

If laughter does indeed develop neurpathways in the brain, it would naturally be an excellent way to defend against the dsyregulation of depression.

It's my guess that in the company of other "laughing" companions this activity is a great way to return resiliency to the nervous system.

Don't be put off if you are the type of person that thinks: "I'm not the kind of person to laugh very much". This group is particularly good for you.

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