Laughter soothes the wounded heart, lightens an awkward moment and, according to recent research, places an emotional emphasis on the words we say.
Even better, when someone laughs with us, relationships grow.
"Current research on laughter in general shows it's more about communicating emotion than about humor," says Carl Marci, lead author of a paper in the October issue of the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases.
The study measured laughter in therapy sessions.
Patients regularly laughed at themselves, which suggests "the patient who is laughing is trying to say more than has been expressed verbally to the therapist," Marci said. "Laughter is an indication that the subject is emotionally charged."
Therapists should explore the meaning of what is said immediately preceding laughter, Marci advises.
Laughter can be contagious, especially when the therapist pays attention, and is willing to laugh with their patient, the study revealed. A laughing therapist is physically aroused, which in turn arouses the patient further. This helps build a rapport between the two.
Ultimately researchers hope to learn if there are long term connections between laughter and improved mental health outside therapy sessions, scientifically proving that laughter really is the best medicine.