TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Here’s How to Make Waiting A Little Less Excruciating

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Some people are better at waiting than others, and there’s a reason for that

We’ve all been there—whether it’s a job interview or an exam or a medical test, once it’s over, there’s nothing we can do but worry and wait.

Some people are better than others at weathering these periods, able to go about their normal lives while only occasionally dwelling on what might happen. The rest of us are nearly paralyzed by the uncertainty, riding waves of hope and despair as we ruminate over every possible outcome.

Kate Sweeny, an associate professor of psychology at University of California Riverside, has made a career out of studying these differences in waiting behaviors. And she’s identified the personality traits that may make distinguish those who are better and worse at waiting—some of which, thankfully, may be adaptable.

In Sweeny’s latest study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, she and a colleague studied 50 law school graduates who were waiting for the results of the California bar exam in 2011. The lawyers filled out detailed personality questionnaires that revealed how well they managed uncertainty, whether they were more optimistic or pessimistic, and their self-esteem. She and her colleague also explored how well the lawyers managed their emotions and expectations, and the coping mechanisms they tended to use when they were anxious, among other things.

Not surprisingly, they found that having an optimistic outlook and being more comfortable with uncertainty helped people handle waiting periods better. But they also found that self-esteem did not seem to have much effect on tempering anxiety during the waiting period. In other words, it didn’t matter whether the participants had reported having high self-esteem or not; what mattered more was whether they tended to have a positive outlook and expect the best.

“I was surprised, since plenty of other research suggested that high self-esteem should help people get through difficult periods when their ego is threatened,” says Sweeny.

It also turned out that people’s states during the waiting period were dynamic, changing depending on how close they were to finding out the outcome. At the beginning of the wait, it was harder for all of the participants to distract themselves from thinking about the possible outcomes, and all of them—even the optimists—became more pessimistic or entertained more negative thoughts about the result as they got closer to the moment of truth.

Sweeny and her colleague also learned some interesting things about the coping mechanisms that people use to get through the uncertainty and anxiety of waiting. While distracting yourself with other unrelated tasks or thoughts was a common tactic, it didn’t prove very successful, especially if the participants were trying very hard to consciously distract themselves. “The fact that they are trying so hard to not feel so anxious actually backfires, because it anything it keeps the uncertainty in mind,” she says.

Anticipating bad news and trying to find the positive in it—preparing ahead of time for failure, in other words—may not help to ease the anxiety during the waiting period, but can be helpful once the result comes, since it gives people a sense of control over their future.

And the same is true for distancing your sense of self worth from the outcome. The more space you put between the result and your sense of self, the easier the final outcome may be. “If you convince yourself the bar exam is not that important, and that it’s just a silly exam you have to take and doesn’t reflect on your or your abilities, that space might help you not have a crushing blow to your ego if the news is bad,” she says.

But for all the worriers out there who can’t distract themselves from the anguish of “what if”’ while waiting, there’s also some solace. The study found that those who had a harder time during the waiting period fared better emotionally after the result, regardless of whether it was bad or good. The participants in the study who had more anxiety and frustration while waiting for their bar exam results and ended up failing, for example, were more likely to turn around and start studying for the test again compared to those who didn’t worry as much about the outcome. And if they passed, the relief was sweeter. “There’s a relief when the waiting is over and things turned out well, and you don’t feel as bad if you get bad news,” says Sweeny. “Either way, it’s a little less of a harsh blow if you had a tough waiting period.”

Still, to make that period less painful, she’s currently studying the effects of mindfulness meditation to help those who can’t stop obsessing over the outcome while they wait. The technique, she says, is perfectly designed for managing such waits, since it focuses on helping people to accept their negative emotions but not be driven by them. So while waiting will never be easy, some things in your control, at least, may make it more bearable.

Read next: 5 Signs You Should Take a Break From Social Media

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Signs You Should Take a Break From Social Media

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If you can’t rake the leaves or paint your nails without tweeting about it

In a tech-obsessed society where 500 million tweets are sent per day and 1.28 billion people use Facebook on a regular basis, how can you tell when your own love of “checking in” has gone too far? Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, PhD, technology expert and author of The Distraction Addiction, shares some of the most common signs that you should to sign off for a bit.

You make elaborate desserts and projects just to Instagram them

Did you spend extra time making your salad look picture-perfect or recreate a DIY off Pinterest just to appear crafty? If you’re guilty of situations like these, you may be ready for a break. “When you start crafting your life to be more Twitter- or Instagram-friendly, it’s time to step back,” says Pang. “Thinking about where you’ll go or what you’ll do with an eye to how it will appear on social media undermines your ability to be yourself,” he adds.

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You can’t rake the leaves or paint your nails without tweeting about it

We all have that friend on social media who can’t help but share every single detail of her life. Unfortunately, you may also be that friend. “Composing tweets about what you’re doing as you’re doing it or feeling the need to report your thoughts in real-time are all signs that social media is taking over your life,” says Pang. “There are only 24 hours in a day, and the more time we spend sharing with our friends what we’re doing hour-by-hour, the less time we have to discover for ourselves why we enjoy these activities and what our days are adding up to mean,” he explains.

You know way too much about your connections

“The big warning sign to look out for here is when you start becoming compulsive about knowing the statuses of your social media ‘friends,’” Pang says. So if you readily know that the random guy you once met at a party just bought a house, and you’ve already stalked his wife’s Facebook profile, you may want to reevaluate how much time you’re spending online. “The irony of social media is that while it can be great for keeping up with the details of our friend’s lives, too much engagement can obscure the big picture and weaken our ability to make sense of our own lives,” adds Pang.

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You feel like you don’t measure up to your successful/happy/thriving friends

Thumbing through your social feed can quickly lead to an inundation of good—and often envy-inducing—news. Witnessing your friends’ promotions, engagements, and extravagant vacations can stir up feelings of jealousy and inadequacy, whether you realize it or not. In fact, spending too much time on social media can cause feelings of negative body image among women, increase the amount of anxiety a person has on a daily basis, and even lead to damaged friendships and relationships. “When keeping up with your friends’ lives gets in the way of you happily leading your own life, you need a break,” says Pang.

You feel anxious when you don’t have access to your phone

Do you check Facebook at traffic lights or while talking to your friends at the table? Do you refresh your Twitter feed as soon as you wake up or as you’re falling asleep? “The more you’re on social media, the less material you actually have to talk about that’s interesting and worth having other people hear,” says Pang. Think about it: How many conversations or real-life events have you missed out on because you were too wrapped up in your phone? The more time you spend liking, the less likable your own world ends up becoming, Pang explains.

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How to take a step back

Start by setting aside a specific time every day for catching up on social media. “Humans have a schedule for exercising, going to work, eating meals, and sleeping. So if one hour per day, at the same time each day, is good enough for dinner, it’s good enough for your news feed,” says Pang. When you do post status updates, limit yourself to only discussing life stories, instead of off-the-cuff thoughts or irrelevant snapshots of your food or your dog (no matter how cute he may be).

Finally, experiment with temporarily limiting your access. “Challenge yourself to abstaining from social media for a full week, or, if that’s too daunting, just delete Twitter, Instagram and Facebook from your phone for a week,” Pang suggests. “Does your life get better or worse? You may find that you feel perfectly satisfied without social media in your life,” says Pang.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

How Your Cell Phone Distracts You Even When You’re Not Using It

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Why you might want to get it out of eyesight

Even if you go all day without touching your cell phone once, just having it visible nearby may distract you from complex tasks, according to new research in the journal Social Psychology.

In the first part of the study, which looked at a group of more than 50 college students, participants were asked to complete different motor tasks with the study leader’s cell phone visible. In the second, participants completed motor tasks with their own cell phones visible. Performance on complex tasks suffered in both conditions when compared to control groups with no visible cell phone.

The sight of a cell phone reminds people of the “broader social community” they can access via texting and the internet, says study author Bill Thornton.

MORE: Why People Text And Drive Even When They Know It’s Dangerous

“With the presence of the phone, you’re wondering what those people are doing,” says Thornton, a University of Southern Maine professor. “Even if it’s just mental, your focus is not on the task at hand, whether it be trying to write an article, get this spreadsheet set up, or just socializing; your mind is elsewhere.”

While performance on complex tasks suffered, the presence of cell phones did little to keep people from successfully finishing easy tasks. Thornton says the same applies to texting while driving.

“You could probably text and drive somewhat safely if you’re on a straight road, and there’s no traffic, and you take your time,” says Thornton. Of course, those conditions rarely exist.

The study builds on previous research that suggests that having your cell phone out reduces the quality of social interaction, even if you don’t engage with your phone. Having the phone out stifled “interpersonal closeness and trust” and kept study participants from feeling empathy for one another, a 2012 study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found.

“Mobile communication devices such as phones may, by their mere presence, paradoxically hold the potential to facilitate as well as to disrupt human bonding and intimacy,” it concluded.

Cell phones play a significant role in today’s social engagement, but Thornton nonetheless suggests that people just put the device away for awhile. “I’m not sure how many people’s text messages are that important,” he said. “Unless you’re an advisor to the president and we have a national emergency, you can wait an hour to get a text.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

4 Health Excuses To Stay Sober At Your Holiday Party

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It's not always easy to explain why you're turning down a drink, finds a new study

Staying sober at a holiday party—whether it’s out of commitment to the 12 steps, your health or your tastebuds—certainly has its merits. But it’s not always easy to explain why you’re turning down a hot toddy, finds a new study in the Journal of Applied Communication Research.

Consider that 65% of adults who work full-time say they regularly drink alcohol, and drinking after work is an ingrained part of many companies’ culture. That after-hours socializing may come with other benefits, too. One study found that among full-time employees, men who drink alcohol earn 19% more than those who don’t, and women who drink make 23% more. Another found that drinking after work with colleagues eased job dissatisfaction.

To find out how non-drinkers handle boozy events, researchers from North Carolina State University interviewed full-time workers who don’t drink alcohol. After analyzing their responses, the authors report that most non-drinkers feel like an outsider and felt like by not drinking, it was their job to put drinkers at ease. Some even said that felt they actually had to be better at their jobs in order to make up for the social points they lost for abstaining. Many said they accepted drinks they never touched, just to save face. “I’ve held a beer bottle for hours, to the point where it’s warm,” said one man who works in sales.

About 40% of nondrinkers abstained for reasons associated with health or not liking the taste, and 38% did so because they were recovering alcoholics. But almost all of them, when asked by coworkers why they weren’t drinking, tended to cite their own health.

No one should have to explain why they don’t drink, but until that day comes, here are five health-related excuses, all from the study participants, to forgo that next drink.

1. “Not drinking is my secret to weight loss.”

Ken, a 41-year-old man, has to woo big donors for his job at a university. “Sometimes they’re really fired up about getting drunk at a football game or something,” he said. In order to not alienate them, Ken told donors he sheds pounds by not drinking. “I don’t want the first thing that somebody thinks of about me to be that I don’t drink,” he said.

2. “It’s that pesky toe fungus again.”

Most recovering alcoholics surveyed gave a health reason for abstaining—in order to skirt stigma. Marshall, a 41-year-old engineer, wanted a legitimate medical excuse that wouldn’t threaten his reputation, so he blamed his toe fungus medication, which is contraindicated with booze—even though the drug had expired and he’d stopped using it.

3. “Sorry, I’ve got a marathon.”

People respect long-term goals and physical challenges, so 43-year-old Donna, a professor, said she didn’t drink because it got in the way of her marathon training. “That goes over really easily,” she said.

4. “Ugh, migraines.”

Instead of revealing that she took anti-anxiety medication and didn’t want to drink alcohol, website designer Maddie, 31, said she took migraine medication. “I’ve spread that lie all over town,” she said.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Most People With Depression Aren’t Getting Treatment, Survey Finds

The latest depression report shows that the majority are suffering in silence

The latest statistics on depression in the U.S. don’t paint a picture of progress, though the condition is common. Nearly 8% of Americans over age 12 have recently been depressed, finds the new report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the vast majority aren’t actively getting treatment.

Of those surveyed between 2009 and 2012, about 3% with depression reported having severe symptoms, and nearly all of these people (90%) said their depression made it difficult to work, go to school or participate in their normal activities at home and in other social settings.

Women are more likely than men to be depressed at any age, and women between 40 and 59 years old had the highest rates of depression among the adults studied. While the survey did not delve into the possible reasons for depression, other studies suggest that for many women in this age group, the pressures of balancing work and family responsibilities, including children as well as aging parents, may lead to added mental health burdens.

Poverty seems to be a factor in depression as well. Those living below the federal poverty level were more than twice as likely to be depressed than those living above the line; this trend applied regardless of race or ethnicity.

But what was most concerning to study co-author Laura Pratt, an epidemiologist at the NCHS, was that 65% of people with severe symptoms of depression were not getting help from a mental health professional. “The fact that people aren’t getting treatment is disturbing,” she says. “People with severe depression should be getting therapy from a mental health professional, and they should also in a lot of cases be on a more complicated medication regimen that requires a psychiatrist to treat them. The fact that only 35% have seen a mental health professional in the last year was pretty alarming.”

The data should raise awareness about the prevalence of depression, she says, and hopefully stress the importance of encouraging those with depression to seek help. “It’s serious, it really affects your life and we need to figure out a way to get people treated appropriately,” she says.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

4 Health Benefits of Being Generous

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Giving may give you a longer life

Forget about all the sweet deals you scored on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Today’s the day to put your shopping exploits aside and embrace something a little more warm and fuzzy: generosity.

It’s officially #GivingTuesday, a global day reserved for people to get out and do something nice for others. While some towns might have a specific campaign planned, you can get in on the action yourself just by donating to charity or volunteering at your local shelter. No act of kindness is too small.

It doesn’t hurt either that giving to others can be a big boost for your health. Read on for four awesome perks of being more generous:

It may lower blood pressure

Helping out friends and family could be one way to boost your cardiovascular health this holiday season. A 2006 study in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found that participants who gave social support to people within their network had lower overall blood pressure and arterial pressure than those who didn’t. Not to mention those in the study who were more likely to give to others also reported they received greater social support in return. Why not bring a homemade meal to a friend who’s caring for someone else this holiday season? Not only will you feel good on the inside, but your friend might just be inclined to return the favor.

HEALTH.COM: How Friends Make You Healthier

It can help reduce stress

Hoarding money like Scrooge may be good for your wallet, but it’s not so great for your health. A recent study from Queensland University of Technology published in PLOS One found that stingy behavior increases stress. Researchers asked 156 volunteers to play a bargaining game and decide how to divide a sum of money. Using heart rate monitors, they found players who made low offers (below 40% of the total) experienced increased heart rate and stress levels compared to those who made high offers. More proof to consider giving away some money to those less fortunate over the holidays: A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who decided not to donate money to their partner in a bargaining game to felt more shame and had higher levels of stress hormone cortisol afterwards.

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It could help you live longer

Lending a hand for small tasks may end up boosting your longevity. In a 2013 study of 846 people published in the American Journal of Public Health, people who helped others by running errands or doing chores seemed to be protected from the negative impact of stress. While stressful events were not linked to a higher risk of death for those do-gooders, people who didn’t help others did have a 30% higher risk of dying during the study if they reported having a stressful life event. If a member of your family always cooks the holiday dinner, it might not be a bad idea to pitch in this year with the meal.

HEALTH.COM: 16 Unexpected Ways to Add Years to Your Life

It can boost your mood

Research shows that giving money away can feel just as good as receiving it. For a 2007 study in Science, researchers used brain imaging technology on 19 women to see how certain regions were activated when they either kept $100 or gave it to a local food bank. Turns out the same pleasure-related centers in the brain that lit up in those who took the money also went off in those who donated the money—even more so when the decision was voluntary and not required by researchers. Whether you drop some change into a Salvation Army bucket or send a larger sum to your favorite charity, you can’t go wrong this holiday season with a little giving.

HEALTH.COM: 14 Strategies to Become a Happier Person

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Meditation Tips for People Who Can’t Focus

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Just a few minutes can shift your mindset for the whole day

Meditation is more than just a stress buster. New research shows it can help boost creativity; another review found it could reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and it could even improve decision making, in addition to a host of other health benefits.

But how can you embark on a serene course of meditation when you can barely quiet your multitasking brain long enough to finish tasks at home or at work? Here, five tips from meditation guru Amit Sood, MD, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living.

Pick an activity that works for you

One assumption novices make is that you have to sit in a corner chanting “ommm” for meditation to work. But that’s a fallacy, says Dr. Sood. You can incorporate it into everyday activities, like your workout. If you’re running, for example, instead of listening to your iPod, silently repeat “peace” every time your foot strikes the ground. After a few minutes, you’ll find you’re chanting the word automatically and have entered a contemplative state.

HEALTH.COM: 16 Unexpected Ways to Add Years to Your Life

Grab a moment of gratitude

An easy way to get in a quick meditative moment is to sit down and take two minutes (yes, you can set your cell phone timer!) to think about five people in your life you’re grateful for. Start with the first one, and quickly run down the many ways this person has helped you. Now move to the second one, and imagine looking deep into their eyes. The third one, visualize giving them a quick, firm hug. By evoking images of folks who care about you, you’re releasing positive energy that will stay with you the rest of the day.

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Start small

Most people only meditate for 3 to 5 minutes when they first start the habit, according to data collected by the folks behind the goal-tracking app Lift. Dr. Sood suggests this simple exercise: Sit quietly and as you breathe in, imagine your brain filling with light. Exhale. Breathe in again, imagining your heart filling with light, then exhale. Repeat (rotating between brain and heart) for two to three minutes.

Wish others well

When you walk around the office, silently send each co-worker you see a wish. It can be specific—“I wish you well in your meeting with the boss this morning” or it can be general “I wish you health and happiness and general well-being.” Do it for everyone, even people you’re indifferent about or dislike: “It removes any sense of hostility or competitiveness you might feel towards others and replaces it with positivity, which is energizing,” says Dr. Sood.

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Turn to an app

If you don’t find any of these techniques helpful—or you crave more—there are plenty of apps out there to keep you meditating in the moment. (Sixty-two percent of people who meditate more than three days a week use a meditation app, according to Lift.) A few to try: Mayo Clinic Meditation ($2.99), Stop Breathe & Think (free), and Mental Workout (free). Or try one of the free guided meditations suggested by Lift.

The good news is if you stick with it, it’s likely to become automatic: people who meditated for 11 days were more than 90% likely to continue to a 12th day, according to the Lift survey.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Suicide Risk Drops 26% After Talk Therapy

Suicide is a problem with few concrete preventive solutions, but a new study in Lancet Psychiatry finds that intervening with talk therapy after a suicide attempt seems to have some amazing long-term effects.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at data from about 65,000 people who had attempted suicide between 1992-2010 in Denmark. The country opened suicide clinics in 1992 and provided them nationwide in 2007, and some of the people had gone to one of these clinics and received 6-10 sessions of talk therapy. The rest of the people did not.

When the researchers analyzed the data after a 20-year follow-up, those who had received the talk intervention fared much better. They repeated acts of self-harm less frequently and had a lower risk of death by any cause, including death by suicide.

After five years, there were 26% fewer suicides in the group who received therapy than in the other group. About 145 suicide attempts and 30 suicides were prevented in the talk therapy group, the researchers estimated.

“People who present with deliberate self-harm constitute a high-risk group for later suicidal behavior and fatal outcomes, so preventive efforts are important; yet, implemented specialized support after self-harm is rare,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Though the study had a long follow-up period and population size, it was not a randomized controlled trial, but such an intervention would be ethically impossible, the study authors write. “These findings might be the best evidence available and provide a sound basis for policy makers who wish to limit suicidal behavior and fatal events in an accessible high-risk group, which, in many countries, receives little support.”

 

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Your Emotional IQ Predicts How Much You’ll Make

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Social skills at work lead to a bigger paycheck

How good are you at reading another person’s emotions? $50,000-a-year good? Or $150,000? Your level of emotional intelligence may predict how much you earn, finds a new study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

The researchers looked at a trait called “emotion recognition ability,” responsible for how well you can sense (and make sense of) another person’s emotions from their face and voice. Researchers tested and measured it along with other interpersonal skills—such as how socially astute they were, their networking savvy and how seemingly trustworthy they were—in 142 German workers.

High emotional recognition was linked to a higher salary, even after controlling for salary-bumping factors like age, gender, education, work experience and work hours.

“This very basic ability has effects on the interpersonal facilitation facet of job performance and, most notably, even on annual income, an objective indicator of career success,” the study authors wrote. “The better people are at recognizing emotions, the better they handle the politics in organizations and the interpersonal aspects of work life, and thus the more they earn in their jobs.”

That could give women, who may recognize emotions better than men, an edge—in theory, at least. One study found that female managers who could more accurately assess nonverbal cues got better satisfaction ratings from their subordinates—an advantage that wasn’t detected in men.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: Does Laughing Have Real Health Benefits?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Your body could use a belly laugh

It may not be the best medicine. But laughter’s great for you, and it may even compare to a proper diet and exercise when it comes to keeping you healthy and disease free.

That’s according to Dr. Lee Berk, an associate professor at Loma Linda University in California who has spent nearly three decades studying the ways the aftershocks of a good laugh ripple through your brain and body.

Berk says your mind, hormone system and immune system are constantly communicating with one another in ways that impact everything from your mood to your ability to fend off sickness and disease. Take grief: “Grief induces stress hormones, which suppress your immune function, which can lead to sickness,” he says. Hardly a week goes by without new research tying stress to another major ailment.

Why mention stress? “Because laughter appears to cause all the reciprocal, or opposite, effects of stress,” Berk explains. He says laughter shuts down the release of stress hormones like cortisol. It also triggers the production of feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine, which have all kinds of calming, anti-anxiety benefits. Think of laughter as the yin to stress’s yang.

Thanks largely to these stress-quashing powers, laughter has been linked to health benefits ranging from lower levels of inflammation to improved blood flow, Berk says. Some research from Western Kentucky University has also tied a good chuckle to greater numbers and activity of “killer cells,” which your immune system deploys to attack disease. “Many of these same things also happen when you sleep right, eat right, and exercise,” Berk says, which is why he lumps laughter in with more traditional healthy lifestyle activities.

Berk has even shown that laughter causes a change in the way your brain’s many neurons communicate with one another. Specifically, laughter seems to induce “gamma” frequencies—the type of brain waves observed among experienced meditators. These gamma waves improve the “synchronization” of your neuronal activity, which bolsters recall and memory, Berk says.

How does laughter accomplish all this? That’s where things get murky, says Dr. Robert Provine, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond.

Provine calls himself a “reserved optimist” when it comes to laughter’s health-bolstering properties. “One of the challenges of studying laughter is that there are so many things that trigger it,” Provine explains. For example, you’re 30 times more likely to laugh around other people than when you are by yourself, he says. Social relationships and companionship have been tied to numerous health benefits. And so the social component of laughter may play a big part in its healthful attributes, Provine adds.

Here’s why that matters: If you’re going to tell people they should laugh to improve their health, there may be a big difference between guffawing on your own without provocation, watching a funny YouTube clip or meeting up with friends who make you laugh, Provine says.

“That doesn’t mean the benefits aren’t real,” he adds. “But it may not be accurate to credit laughter alone with all these superpowers.”

But even for researchers like Provine who aren’t ready—at least not yet—to coronate laughter as a panacea, he doesn’t dispute the benefits associated with a hearty har har. He only questions science’s current understanding of the underlying mechanisms.

“When we laugh, we’re in a happy place,” he says. “That’s always a good thing.”

Read next: Is It Good Or Bad To Take A Nap?

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