April Fools' Day: A good laugh is good for you

Dr. Scott Bea: When a joke is done well and in good fun, it creates bonding

File photo
File photo (iStock)

April Fools’ Day is, of course, known for its celebration of mischief.

But according to Dr. Scott Bea, Psy.D, of Cleveland Clinic, you don’t have to be a certified prankster to reap the benefits of some harmless practical joking.

“Humor, in general, whether it's April Fools’ Day or some other experience of humor, tends to create social bonding,” he said. “We tend to bond around similar types of humor. The things that we find funny, that we share in common with others, bring us together.” 

Bea said in order for a joke to be fun and harmless, it’s essential that you know the person really well. 

“People are just built differently -- and we’re built differently with respect to our sensitivities, and people who naturally have a capacity to laugh at themselves or who will poke fun at themselves, are going to be better targets,” he said. “Whereas with somebody who gets broken up over those sorts of matters, it could lead to upset.”

But, Bea said a when a joke is done well and in good fun, it creates bonding.

He said having a good laugh is an acknowledgment that we know each other well enough to have fun with one another, without anyone getting upset.

And when we laugh, we release oxytocin -- the chemical that bonds people together. 

Bea said the release of both oxytocin and dopamine is what makes us feel good when we’re laughing.

“Humor is thought to be one of the most sophisticated psychological defenses; the way we defend ourselves against the tough parts of being human,” he said. “We think it does release brain chemicals, too -- dopamine, the feel-good chemical. If people are really laughing hard, there’s no question that dopamine is being released.” 

Bea reminds us that in addition to being wise about our targets on April Fools’ Day, remember that if you’re going to play prankster, you have to be willing to let yourself be a target, too.