Humor is difficult to define as a concept. The most basic definition of humor is that it is the tendency of experience to provide amusement, oftentimes resulting in laughter, although not always. Humor's etymology reveals that it's categorized as a universal human trait, and that responses to humor are simply a part of human behavior and, in that sense, is a partly natural and partly acquired phenomenon, which means that what constitutes "humorous" in one culture might not be humorous for another (Raskin 2). While humor is generally considered to be a simple and genuinely beneficial occurrence, it is actually fairly complex, with a number of effects on the human mind. It also has a few drawbacks that make humor something of a double-edged sword, especially around strangers.
In terms of the effects of humor on the human body: there are many. For starters, humor, studies have shown, has a profound effect on immunity in humans, especially children, with the effects sometimes being positive, and sometimes negative (Martin 317). This works by altering the brain-immune system communication channels, and, specifically, negative emotions, such as depression, anger, and gear, can adversely affect it, while humor generally improves immunity (Martin 317). Humor also has a large number of miscellaneous effects on an individual, with these effects differing from person to person. For example, one study in Japan showed that humor reduced allergic reactions in patients, while another showed that humor causes an increase in certain molecules in the mouth that help to fight bacteria and the like from entering the body (Martin 320). While the actual effects from person to person are probably not very significant, they nevertheless demonstrate that humor, which is a decidedly abstract concept, can have a profound impact on the human body, which is, of course, physical.
In terms of advantages to humor, the positives of humor are well-documented, and it is generally agreed among researchers that humor, especially when it involves laughing, is extremely healthy. First, laughter, a common side effect of humor, has a number of health benefits, especially in children. For children, laughter has a number of psychological effects. It causes the child laughing as well as those around him or her to be more relaxed, and humor, for children, is instrumental in knocking down walls of anger, alienation, and frustration (Patterson 73). This gives these same children an advantage when dealing with social situations since they will generally be happier and have a more positive disposition, which helps for children for whom social contact can be difficult. These same concepts carry over to adults as well and help to demonstrate how helpful even side effects of humor can be. For example, humor works extremely well as a deterrent for unhappiness and, especially, disappointment: two harsh realities for those living as adults in the modern world (Patterson 70). By utilizing humor, these hardships become much more bearable, and there is something to be said for the advantages of humor when they can help people cope with some of their hardest of times in their life. Humor also, to put it simply, brightens the lives of all parties involved. For example, a worker who had a hard day on the job might come home and have his daughter or dog do something humorous, which prompts a positive reaction in the worker (such as laughter), which, thus, leads to an increased amount of happiness in him.
This is not to say that humor is some sort of magical cure-all for any ailment. It actually has a few disadvantages, some of them serious (although not serious enough to consider humor as dangerous or not worthwhile). The social stigma that arises as a result of humor in certain situations is a serious disadvantage to humor, and can, in certain situations, even be the difference between life and death. That is to say, one of the most serious disadvantages of humor is that it can promote distrust among two or more parties who are unsure of one another's intentions. That is to say, "...using humor in stressful discussions...can cause distrust between members, including suspicions about the initiator's dedication or motivation" (Dziegielewski 75). On the more physical side of things, laughter has been linked by studies to increases in blood pressure, which, in turn, leads to an increased risk of heart attack and other heart-related issues (Fry 49). However, it should be noted that laughter does, in general, lead to a decreased risk of these heart issues, but it is, nevertheless, possible for laughter to lead to blood pressure and heart problems if performed in excess. Thankfully, the disadvantages of humor and, subsequently, laughter are few and mainly revolve around the fact that utilizing humor or, even worse, laughter at the wrong time can lead to some unintended consequences.
As studies continue to show, humor is a part of normal human science and a beneficial part of humanity as a whole. It has a large number of well-documented health benefits, and generally gives those who laugh or experience humor a feeling of well-being and happiness. The only caveat that comes with humor is that it should be exercised with caution and, if possible, in moderation, as laughing too much can cause a human too, quite literally, die laughing. Risks aside, humor is a gift exclusive to humans that allows them to grasp concepts in ironic or unexpected ways, which prompts an automatic response (laughter). The prevailing notion regarding humor is that "a laugh a day keeps the doctor away," and that notion appears to be accurate even today, as more and more research touts the benefits of laughter. It is simply important to, like all positive things, utilize it in moderation.
Dziegielewski, Sophia F., et al. "Humor: An essential communication tool in therapy." International Journal of Mental Health (2003): 74-90.
Fry, William F., and William M. Savin. "Mirthful laughter and blood pressure." (1988): 49-62.
Martin, Rod A. The psychology of humor: An integrative approach. Access Online via Elsevier, 2010. 317-329
Raskin, Victor. Semantic mechanisms of humor. Vol. 24. Springer, 1985.2
Patterson, Stephen. Better Living Through Laughter: An Attitude to Live by. iUniverse, 2010. 70-73