I have heard the admonition most of my life. I bet you have too. Since it is a regular feature in Reader’s Digest, the statement must be true: Laughter is the best medicine. I have always accepted the truth of this statement on faith and personal experience. Besides, laughing is free and can be self-induced. But apparently there are actual studies that prove the validity of this claim.
Norman Cousins is probably the best known proponent of laughing yourself to good health. He recorded his bout with illness and healing in Anatomy of an Illness by the Patient: Reflections on Healing (1979). His story is pretty dramatic. In 1964 he was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a rare disease of the connective tissues. He was told his chances for survival were minimal and to get his affairs in order.
However, instead of accepting that bleak outcome, Cousins took action. First, he checked out of the hospital and sought out a doctor who would work with him as a team member in a friendlier setting. Next, since the disease was known to deplete the body of Vitamin C, he started taking mega-doses of the vitamin. But his third and best action was that he arranged to watch hour after hour after hour of comedies to help him laugh as much as possible. He documents that the laughter helped him sleep better, relieved pain, and made him healthy. He lived for another 26 years!
Now, there are various studies that document the health and social benefits of laughing. Of course, some reviewers caution that not all the studies praising the benefits of laughing were conducted with appropriate scientific rigor. Still, places like HelpGuide.org, ABC News, and the Mayo Clinic praise and encourage laughing. The main benefits from the simple act of laughing on a regular basis are impressive:
- Relaxes the body,
- Alleviates pain,
- Releases endorphins,
- Boosts immunity,
- Protects the heart and other organs, and
- Reduces stress.
The Mayo Clinic even suggests that a forced smile can help anyone feel better:
“Go ahead and give it a try. Turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile and then give a laugh, even if it feels a little forced. Once you’ve had your chuckle, take stock of how you’re feeling. Are your muscles a little less tense? Do you feel more relaxed or buoyant? That’s the natural wonder of laughing at work.”
FOLLOWING DOCTOR’S ORDERS
Some medical professionals have started prescribing laughter for their patients. These professionals use “humor carts” to bring laughter-inducing materials to the bedside and coordinate “laughter clubs” to get people together for the express purpose of generating laughter. Reader’s Digest offers a fun little article called “19 Ways to Enhance Your Sense of Humor.” Just imagining a group of adults practicing the following suggestion made me giggle!
“Spend 15 minutes a day having a giggling session. Here’s how you do it: You and another person (partner, kid, friend, etc.) lie on the floor with your head on her stomach, and her head on another person’s stomach and so on (the more people the better). The first person says, “Ha.” The next person says, “Ha-ha.” The third person says, “Ha-ha-ha.” And so on. We guarantee you’ll be laughing in no time.”
I certainly hope you take this medical advice to heart. I know I do. Most week nights, I unwind at the end of a long tiring day by watching The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson. His guests are fairly typical, except he does occasionally invite authors, philosophers, and politicians along with the more usual celebrities. But mainly I can count on him to be downright silly. During most episodes, I laugh out loud, even if some of the laughs are more like stifled groans because the jokes are so bad. You see, it does not matter how you laugh: a loud belly laugh, a stifled snicker, or a bellowing guffaw. The main thing is to laugh, hopefully every day!
In case you need some help finding things to laugh about, I’m embedding some videos below with excerpts from some of my favorite funny people, mostly from the past. I’d love to hear what makes you chuckle: TV shows, books, movies, comics/comediennes, kids, pets, maybe life’s irritations. Maybe you even have a favorite joke.
SOME VIDEOS TO SHARE
The Carol Burnett Show was always funny—and one of my favorites as a kid. There are many classic skits from that show like “Went with the Wind” or Harvey Korman and Tim Conway in the “Dentist’s Office.” But I selected this “Star Trek Parody,” in part because I did not remember it. Carol does a pretty good James T. Kirk.
Another show I loved as a kid was Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, especially the bits with Lily Tomlin. Here are some fun excerpts from that show: Cocktail Party, Edith Ann, and Ernestine.
Bob Newhart has always been a favorite. Both his shows were great as was his earlier stand-up routines. I had not seen this bit from a MadTV episode until I stumbled on it the other day, but it did make me laugh.
There are a lot of great stand-up comics that consistently make me laugh: Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and Bill Cosby to name a few. Below is the classic bit “My Stuff” from George Carlin.
One last video: A friend shared this commercial titled “Herding Cats.” It’s a hoot!
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FINALLY, SOME QUOTES ABOUT LAUGHTER
If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane. Robert Frost
I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh. Maya Angelou
My body needs laughter as much as it needs tears. Both are cleansers of stress. Mahagony Silverrain
Laughter is wine for the soul – laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness – the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living. Sean O’Casey
Laughter translates into any language. Anonymous
The most wasted of all days is one without laughter. e .e. cummings
At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities. Jean Houston
Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine. Lord Byron
I have always felt that laughter in the face of reality is probably the finest sound there is and will last until the day when the game is called on account of darkness. In this world, a good time to laugh is any time you can. Linda Ellerbee
If you become silent after your laughter, one day you will hear God also laughing, you will hear the whole existence laughing — trees and stones and stars with you. Osho
If you would not be laughed at, be the first to laugh at yourself. Benjamin Franklin
Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy. John Cleese
Laughter is God’s hand on the shoulder of a troubled world. Bettenell Huntznicker
You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing. Michael Pritchard
Laughter is the language of the soul. Pablo Neruda