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, William James (1842-1910), said, "We don't laugh because we're happy, we are happy because we laugh."
What's the reason behind this article? Simply to point out the benefits of laughter are too numerous to ignore. Now is the time to resolve that we will consciously make an effort to laugh frequently throughout the day. Of course, as we do so, we will laugh with people - not at them. We will laugh at what people do, not at what people are. We will laugh not only to lighten our burdens, but those of everyone we meet.
The many benefits of laughter
1. When you make fun of yourself, you disempower those who would make fun of you and disarm possible confrontations.
2. Laughter dissolves tension, stress, anxiety, irritation, anger, grief, and depression. Like crying, laughter lowers inhibitions, allowing the release of pent-up emotions. After a hearty bout of laughter, you will experience a sense of well-being. Simply put, he who laughs, lasts. After all, if you can laugh at it, you can live with it. Remember, a person without a sense of humor is like a car without shock absorbers.
3. Medical researches have found that laughter boosts the immune system. The study of how behavior and the brain affect the immune system is called psychoneuroimmunology. Though still in its infancy, this science is rapidly gaining much attention as mankind strives to understand the mind-body relationship.
4. Laughter reduces pain by releasing endorphins that are more potent than equivalent amounts of morphine.
5. Humor helps integrate both hemispheres of our brain, for the left hemisphere is used to decipher the verbal content of a joke while the right hemisphere interprets whether it is funny or not.
6. Laughter adds spice to life; it is to life what salt is to a hard-boiled egg.
7. Develop your sense of humor and you will find you are more productive, a better communicator, and a superior team player.
8. Everyone loves someone who can make them laugh. The more you share your sense of humor, the more friends you will have.
9. Humor brings the balance we need to get through the turbulence of life comfortably.
10. Laughter is even equivalent to a small amount of exercise. It massages all the organs of the body, according to Dr. James Walsh.
11. A sense of humor can help you accept the inevitable, rise to any challenge, handle the unexpected with ease, and come out of any difficulty smiling.
The most wasted day is that in which we have not laughed. Don't wait until you are sick before you begin practicing laughter therapy. Start today by renting comedy classics from your video store, borrowing humorous books from the library, attending comedy clubs or watching comics on TV, and exchanging jokes with family members, friends, and coworkers. If you are visiting someone in the hospital, why not bring funny greeting cards and humorous books instead of flowers?
I'll end on a personal note. Every time I'm out on a cloudy day with a group of friends, I'm the first person to know when it starts to rain. Do you know why? Because I'm bald!
© Chuck Gallozzi
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© Chuck Gallozzi