Benefits of Laughter


Angels fly because they take themselves lightly (G.K. Chesterton)

Plato's remark that "Even the gods love jokes." must be correct, for the value of laughter is recorded in sacred scripture. For example, the Koran states that "He deserves Paradise who makes his companions laugh." By the fourteenth century, the healing power of humor was recognized by the medical community. An important French surgeon, Henri de Mondeville (1260-1320), wrote, "Let the surgeon take care to regulate the whole regimen of the patient's life for joy and happiness, allowing his relatives and special friends to cheer him, and by having someone tell him jokes."

However, extensive research on 'laughter therapy' did not begin until after the New England Journal of Medicine published an article by Norman Cousins in 1976. Later, in 1979, this article became the first chapter of his book, 'Anatomy of an Illness.' In it he explained how he was diagnosed in 1964 with ankylosing spondylitis (also known as spondylitis, AS, or Bechterew Disease). The disease usually results in acute inflammation of the spine and can affect other areas of the body as well. Norman Cousins' case was so severe that he was given a one in five hundred chance of recovery and a few months to live.

Realizing that negative thoughts and attitudes can result in illness, he reasoned that positive thoughts and attitudes may have the opposite effect. So he left the hospital and checked into a hotel where he took mega doses of vitamin C and watched humorous movies and shows, including 'Candid Camera' and the Marx Brothers. He found that ten minutes of boisterous laughter resulted in at least two hours of pain-free sleep. He continued his routine until he recovered. Thus, he proved that laughter is the best medicine, and pointed the way to mind-body medicine.

William Fry, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School and expert on health and laughter, reports the average kindergarten student laughs 300 times a day. Yet, adults average just 17 laughs a day. Why the difference? Are we too uptight, too tense? Do we take life too seriously? Isn't it time we learned how to relax? We don't stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing. So, if we want to fly like the angels and share in their happiness, we'll have to follow their example and take ourselves lightly.

Our five senses are not enough for ideal living. We need to use our sixth sense: our sense of humor. Humor isn't about merely telling jokes; it's the way we view the world. We can be sincere about life without taking it so seriously. We can laugh about our mistakes and pain. Louis Kronenberger explains: "Humor simultaneously wounds and heals, indicts and pardons, diminishes and enlarges; it constitutes inner growth at the expense of outer gain, and those who posses and honestly practice it make themselves more through a willingness to make themselves less."

The brilliant American humorist, James Thurber (1894-1961), described humorists as follows: "The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people - that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature." The wellspring of laughter is not happiness, but pain, stress, and suffering. Socrates pointed this out when he taught, "The comic and the tragic lie inseparably close, like light and shadow." So, we should be thankful for our suffering, for without it there would be nothing to laugh at! When we laugh at our woes, they dissolve, or at least become bearable, so that we arrive at peace and happiness. As the pragmatic philosopher and psychologist,