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Amusement and pleasant surprises—and the laughter they can trigger—add texture to the fabric of daily life.

Those giggles and guffaws can seem like just silly throwaways. But laughter, in response to funny events, actually takes a lot of work, because it activates many areas of the brain: areas that control motor, emotional, cognitive and social processing.

As I found when writing “An Introduction to the Psychology of Humor,” researchers now appreciate laughter’s power to enhance physical and mental well-being.

Laughter’s physical power

People begin laughing in infancy, when it helps develop muscles and