If you're having a bad day and don't know whether to laugh or cry, always go for the first option. Having a chuckle is good for your health, as Hannah Frankel explains.
It distinguishes us from the animals and is proven to be good for us, so why are humans laughing less? In the 1980s, people laughed, on average, 18 times a day four more laughs than we do today, research says.
Four-year-olds laugh or smile about 400 times a day, but some adults barely raise a smile, let alone a laugh, for days at a time. But just like exercise, there is a recommended daily quota for laughter. Doctors believe 50 laughs a day will improve immunity, lower blood pressure and release endorphins.
"People lack understanding about how powerful laughter can be," says Alison Hortop, an occupational therapist in Cardiff and managing director of The Great Escaped, a laughter training and therapy company.
Teachers in particular can struggle to find time for laughter. "It's hard when people are feeling very stressed, because they tend to feel under attack and become defensive," Alison says. "But the more you laugh, the more you find you can and want to laugh, and that in itself helps."
Tom Butler, a teaching assistant from Banbury, believes laughter therapy has transformed his school day. "Having a laugh at work relieves an awful lot of stress," he says. "If a pupil has wound me up with bad behaviour, instead of getting angry, I try to analyse it and see the funny side. I'll end up talking and laughing about it with other teachers. It also leads to happier kids, which makes them better learners."
Laughter may not come easily to everyone, but techniques can be learnt, Alison insists. "If laughter can't be your first reaction, you should practise making it your second."
THE BEST MEDICINE
Laughter releases dopamine and endorphins.
Reduces blood pressure and stress (those with a good sense of humour are 40 per cent less likely to have a first heart attack).
Burns calories (100-200 laughs a day is equal to 10 minutes rowing).
Increases the natural killer cells and T-cells that destroy some cancer cells.
Strengthens the diaphragm, back and stomach.