What Does Laughter Is the Best Medicine Mean?

Whether you’re more of a chuckler, giggler, snickerer, chortler, snorter, or cackler, laughing is certainly fun to do. And it turns out, not only does it feel good, it’s also good for you—hence the expression laughter is the best medicine. Read on to learn more about this popular proverbial phrase.

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What Does Laughter Is the Best Medicine Mean?

Put simply, as mentioned above, this saying means that laughter is good for your health and well-being. It is often used to remind someone who’s feeling stressed, worried, angry, or depressed, as examples, that the simple act of laughing can help alleviate their negative emotions. More broadly speaking, it’s a reminder that a positive outlook can help you feel strong and get through difficult situations. 

It is important to note that laughter is the best medicine is a metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech that suggests a likeness between two unrelated things. It equates these two things to help explain an idea—for the sake of comparison—and not because the two things are literally one in the same. You can recognize a metaphor because it will state that one thing is another thing; in this case, that laughter is medicine (and the best medicine at that). A metaphor is different from a simile: Although a simile is also a figure of speech that compares two unlike things, it does so using the words like or as; for example, her eyes were as bright as the sun. Both metaphors and similes are used regularly in literature, especially poetry.

In other words, laughter isn’t actually medicine. It can’t prevent, treat, or cure disease exactly as medications can. Yet, it can lead to better physical and mental health, and the science backs this up (more below).  

Here are some example sentences using the expression laughter is the best medicine:

  • I had a really hard day at work and was feeling upset and down. My friends suggested I meet them after I left the office at our favorite bar/restaurant for some good food and drinks, and I’m so glad I did. We caught up, told funny stories, and now I feel much happier. As they say, laughter is the best medicine. 
  • After my surgery, I felt so tired and sore. I had to rest in bed for a week. Even though I couldn’t be active, I found that I felt so much stronger and lively and upbeat after watching a few comedy TV shows. I guess they’re right that laughter is the best medicine. 
  • There’s nothing like a good giggle to help you forget your worries. Laughter is the best medicine. 
  • I really felt that laughter is the best medicine during the coronavirus lockdown. It kept my and my family’s spirits high during one of the most uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Origin of the Saying

We can chuckle over the fact that, as is the case with so many common phrases discussed here at The Word Counter, no one is certain when and with whom this expression originated. 

It’s thought that it may have developed from a passage in the Bible, Proverbs 17:22, which states: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” (Different versions substitute cheerful or joyful for merry and health or healing for medicine.) Although the line doesn’t contain the exact phrase laughter is the best medicine, it does share the idea that a positive, happy disposition is good for one’s health, as medicine is, while a sad, unhappy disposition can be harmful to one’s well-being. 

Again, though, no one is exactly sure how the expression evolved into the phrase we know and use today.

In the 1960s and 70s, Norman Cousins, an author and political journalist, popularized the idea that laughing is good for your health and extolled the power of laughter. He used “laugh therapy” to combat diagnoses that caused him a great deal of pain, chronicling this approach in his book Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient. A wealth of research supports this idea. 

What the Science Says

According to scientific research, laughter really is good “medicine” for both mind and body. Here are just a few of the many proven health benefits of laughter. 

Laughter releases endorphins. Endorphins are “feel-good” chemicals released by the brain. They can produce a feeling of euphoria and relaxation and help boost mood, and they can even have an analgesic effect in the body, reducing the perception of pain.

Laughter is good for the immune system. Laughter appears to increase the body’s production of important immune cells, specifically natural killer cells, which help fight disease. 

Laughter is powerful against depression. Studies suggest that laughing releases the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is the same brain chemical targeted by common antidepressants. It even appears that forced laughter releases chemicals that help improve mood. 

Laughter protects the heart. Laughter appears to help blood vessels function properly and increases blood flow, and thus protects the heart from heart attack and cardiovascular disease. (Healthy blood vessels are also especially important for a healthy brain.) Laughter also helps with stress relief, and stress is a major contributor to high blood pressure; if left untreated, hypertension can cause heart disease. A good laugh first amps up then cools down your stress response, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure in the process.

Laughter may help you live longer. Given the benefits mentioned above, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Indeed, studies have found that a sense of humor can help you live longer; this is especially true for women.

Laughter also plays an important role in relationships, and studies suggest that a lack of social support can leave you more vulnerable to disease. And the list of the beneficial effects of laughter on health could go on and on… 

What Is a Proverb?

The saying laughter is the best medicine is a proverb. A proverb is a short, common phrase or saying that imparts advice or shares a universal truth. Synonyms of the term proverb include adage, aphorism, and maxim. Here are some additional examples of well-known proverbs:

Blood is thicker than water.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Learn the meanings of many more proverbs and other common sayings here.

Summary

Simply put, the proverbial expression laughter is the best medicine means that laughing is good for you—for your mental as well as physical health. It is often used as a reminder or as words of encouragement to someone going through a tough time to try and find the positive in the situation, to use humor to change their negative thoughts and outlook. Although the saying is a metaphor, and laughter is not literally medicine (you cannot use it to manage diabetes, for instance), research has uncovered many healing properties of laughter. If you’ve ever felt happier or calmer after having a good belly laugh over a friend’s joke or watching a funny movie, you know some of laughter’s benefits firsthand. In addition to relaxing the body and boosting mood, it has also been shown to relieve pain, increase immunity, protect the heart, and even help you live longer.

PS: Ever heard of laughter yoga?! This type of yoga incorporates traditional elements of the practice, along with special breathing exercises and laughter exercises that encourage voluntary laughter, or laughing for no reason. A laughter yoga class typically includes about 15-20 minutes of laughter. What’s more, researchers have found that laughter itself burns calories; no joke!