You may feel badly now, but you could be able to laugh your way back to health.

Keith Brofsky/Getty Images

You've probably heard that laughter is the best medicine, but have you ever wondered if laughter can cure an illness? That question may have elicited a chuckle from your doctor once, but today, your physician may advise you to up your daily dose of laughter to improve your health. Psychologists studying the science of happiness believe that practicing certain positive behaviors like laughter can bring the pleasure, engagement and meaning that comprise happiness [source: Jameson].

How does laughter improve one's health? Laughter sets off a chain reaction throughout the body that promotes physical and psychological health. Regular and frequent guffawing can both prevent illness and help you get well. Laughter lowers your body's hormone and cortisol levels. (Cortisol is a stress-induced chemical that can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and excess belly fat.) Laughter also strengthens your immune system because it increases the production of antibodies in your saliva and in your bloodstream to stave off bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Laughter also helps with skin conditions. People suffering from eczema noted improvement in their complexions after consistently watching funny movies. When allergy patients laugh regularly, it reportedly shrinks their welts [source: Kimata].

When you laugh, it affects your body the same way that a brisk walk would by working various muscles throughout your body. Laughing increases your aerobic (heart and lung) capacity by expanding your oxygen consumption and increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. After you're done hooting and howling, you get an added bonus -- relaxation. As laughter brings you release and relief, it also reduces stress by lowering your body's cortisol levels, as we learned earlier. In addition, a good measure of laughter combats depression as well as anxiety [source: Oz]. In the next section, we'll learn how people use laughter therapy to help control their health and manage illness.