How Laughter Can Make You Feel Invincible

How long do you think you could keep your hand in a bucket of freezing water? Consider this a new ice bucket challenge.

10 seconds? A minute?

The length of time you can endure the freezing cold tells a little about your pain tolerance. The longer you are able to withstand a frozen hand, the higher your tolerance.

What if I told you that you could improve this tolerance and all you had to do was laugh?

In his book, Ha! The Science of When We Laugh And Why, author Scott Weems tells the story of scientist who performed a cold pressor test. They asked participants to hold one hand in water chilled to 35 degrees Fahrenheit. They recorded their scores and then asked the participants to do the test again, only this time they performed the test while watching a recording of humorous stand-up comedy.

While watching the comedy, the patients were able to increase the amount of time they kept their hand in the ice water from 36-100 seconds. Weems calls this the Bill Cosby Effect (which unfortunately has a different connotation these days).

But laughing isn’t exactly the same as taking aspirin. Rather, it is more like a jog on a treadmill. Our minds need emotional engagement just like our bodies need exercise.

“The reason comedies and tragedies lead to greater pain tolerance is that our minds are exercised by each,” Weems says. “When we laugh, just as when we cry, our bodies experience emotional arousal. This effect is both engaging and distracting, strengthening our bodies—and our minds—for what is to come, much like a boxer lifts weights before a bout.”

Weems goes into great detail to show the benefits of laughing, but he also acknowledges that is it not a wonder drug. Humor may increase our pain tolerance but man cannot live on humor alone.

“Laughter is the best medicine, so long as it’s mixed with exercise, a healthy diet, and an occasional dose of penicillin,” says Weems.

Humor is a lot like changing a baby’s diaper—it doesn’t necessarily solve all our problems, but it sure does make things more pleasant for a while.”

So next time you are want to alleviate some hurt (physically or emotionally), you might just want to turn on Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain.

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