People who do this more often are better equipped to handle stress

How many times a day do you find yourself laughing? Not everyone has the same sense of humor, but a new study finds that how often a person laughs may just go a long way toward determining how well they’re able to cope with stressful situations.

Researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland have concluded that people who laugh frequently throughout a typical day are much better equipped to cope with, and stay calm during stressful events, situations, or accidents. Moreover, just smiling more often also seems to help.

It’s also important to note that the intensity of said laughter doesn’t appear to make a difference regarding stress coping skills. All that matters is that one laughs often in general.

We all have our unique ways of looking at the world. Some people are naturally more upbeat, optimistic, and able to see the fun or humorous side of any situation. Others, however, are naturally inclined toward a more critical, pessimistic way of looking at things. While it isn’t always detrimental to be a natural pessimist, this research certainly suggests that it’s far healthier to approach unexpected stressful events with a sense of humor.

Take a common, everyday accident as an example. You made a stop before work and picked up some coffee, but just as you’re climbing the stairs toward your office your foot slips and your piping hot coffee lands all over your outfit. When this happens, you can react in one of two ways; explode with frustration and stress at how you have to drive back home and change outfits, or just laugh off the accident and choose not to let it ruin your day.

That’s an especially low-stakes example, but the same notion applies to even more serious stressors. In the event of a car accident, it’s still a better idea to remain calm and try and find a sliver of humor or silver lining to the situation than to start yelling and screaming.

Stress, in and of itself, wreaks havoc on our bodies. In the vast majority of cases, the stress we place on ourselves after accidents or unexpected developments is far more harmful than the actual stressors themselves.

For this research, the study’s authors sent out an “acoustic signal” to participants’ phones eight times per day for 14 days total. In all, 41 psychology students took part in this study. Most of those students were female (33 out of the 41), and the overall participant group had an average age of just under 21 years old.

Each time participants heard the signal, they had to answer a series of questions gauging how often they had laughed, the intensity of the laughs, and the reason for the laughs, since the last signal.

All of that collected data allowed the research team to investigate the relationship between laughter, stressors, and subsequent stress symptoms (headache, nervousness, stomach ache).

After analyzing everything, researchers found that during periods in which a participant was laughing more often, stressful events would almost always only result in minor stress symptoms.

Researchers were somewhat expecting those results but were surprised to see that laugh intensity didn’t seem to influence the relationship between laughter and stress coping skills.

“This could be because people are better at estimating the frequency of their laughter, rather than its intensity, over the last few hours,” the study reads.

Staying calm when life doesn’t go as planned is easier said than done. After all, it’s hard to truly predict how anyone is going to react to a certain situation until they find themselves in it. That’s why it’s a good idea to try and laugh more often in general. That way, when stressors do inevitably arise, you’ll be better prepared to keep smiling.

The full study can be found here, published in PLOS ONE.