Laugh Together, Grow Old Together?

While laughter has been generally known to be a very healthy outlet, the clear majority of the research has looked at individual outcomes. Very little research has looked at the role of laughter in a social or group setting, until now. Recently, researchers from the University of North Carolina have looked at laughter and how it can contribute to the health of romantic relationships. Their findings provide insight for couples that want to strengthen and even increase the longevity of their relationships.

Researching Laughter

Laura Kurtz, from UNC, led this study, published in Personal Relationships. It  included 77 heterosexual couples who had been in a relationship together for four years, on average. The research team recorded video discussions with each couple on how they first met. The researchers then coded the number of times a couple laughed together and measured how long they laughed. In addition, the couples filled out a questionnaire regarding the closeness and quality of their relationships.

Results of the Research

The results of the study found that couples who shared laughter had a higher level of satisfaction in their relationship. Thus, laughter can be one indicator (of many) of the health of a relationship. These results may sound intuitive, but Kurtz notes that there is very little academic research connecting laughter to relationships. As mentioned, since most prior research regarding laughter looked at individual outcomes, there’s a need to build the literature with research looking at the role and effects of laughter in relationships.

Laughter and Gender Patterns

Two gender patterns that emerged from the study showed that:

  1. Women laughed more than men.
  2. When men do laugh, the laughter is actually more contagious.  

It is possible that men laugh less because they are less emotionally expressive. Why is male laughter more contagious than female laughter?  It may be because male laughter occurs less often. So, when men do laugh, there may be a perception of “if he’s laughing, it must be funny.” It should be noted that regardless of gender, when one partner feigns laughter, not only is it awkward, but it could indicate that something may be wrong in the relationship.

Laughter and Cultural Differences

It should be noted that there are also differences regarding how laughter is viewed in Western versus Eastern cultures. People in Eastern cultures do not display laughter in the same animated way as people in the West do. In fact, even a smile in Eastern societies could be equivalent to laughter.  

Finding Ways to Laugh Together

The research by Kurtz and her team shows that laughing together is a supportive activity that helps partners feel closer to one another. How then, can couples find ways to find more humor in their lives?  Some ideas include:

  1. Accepting the absurdity of life.
  2. Smiling more!  Smiling helps with maintaining a positive mindset.
  3. Becoming mindful of stuck or negative thinking patterns.
  4. Keeping an “inside joke” between the two of you.  
  5. Watching a funny TV show or movie that you both like.
  6. Going to a comedy club together.
  7. Having fun together!  Participate in activities that you both enjoy and are likely to be remembered fondly.

Trying to inject more laughter in your relationship may be less about“taking action-oriented steps” and more about adjusting your overall mindset. If you are both still struggling with finding laughter and joy in your relationship, consider seeing a therapist who specializes in couples therapy.

It should be noted that just because a couple doesn’t laugh all the time doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship is doomed to failure. However, the research does show that laughter can be an important factor for maintaining a healthy relationship, making the relationship stronger, and even increasing the longevity and stability of a relationship. Oh, and of course, most couples tend to really enjoy laughing together too!

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