We don’t laugh because we’re happy — we’re happy because we laugh — William James
Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?
You may not find this joke particularly funny, unlike my young grandsons who think it is hysterical. No matter how many times they tell it, it sends them into a fit of giggles. Then, their laughter becomes contagious and before long I am laughing along with them.
The old adage “laughter is the best medicine” was verified by Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, in his ground-breaking book Anatomy of an Illness published in 1979. The book details his painful experience with a degenerative disease. When Cousins was told that there was only a 1 in 500 chance of going into remission, he took matters into his own hands by creating a laughter therapy program for himself. He found that watching and laughing to comedic shows like Candid Camera, The Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers, eased his pain and was a large part of his recovery.
Although many in the medical community were skeptical of his claims, Cousins said that “We mustn’t regard any of this as a substitute for competent medical attention. But the doctor can only do half the job. The other half is the patient’s response to the illness. What we really mean by a patient’s responsibility is that we’ve got vast powers that are rarely used. It’s important to avoid defeatism and a sense of panic and despair.”(1)
Surprisingly, Cousins’ layman approach and self-experimentation was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The medical profession started paying attention and, although many physicians had doubts and concerns about Cousins’ unscientific approach, he had laid down the gauntlet and the challenge was taken up by several researchers in the 1980’s, one of them being Dr. Lee Berk, a preventive care specialist in California.
Berk and his colleagues conducted many experiments involving laughter. In one study, they measured the participants’ stress hormones before and after watching an hour of comedy. The study found that after watching the show, the subjects had lower levels of stress hormones compared to those who did not watch it.(2)
In 1995, Dr. Matan Kataria, an Indian physician living in Mumbai started a laughing club. Dr. Kataria’s club was based on his research on the health benefits of laughter. His concept caught on and he formalized his method by calling it “Hasya Yoga” which means “Laughter Yoga.” Today, there are thousands of Laughter Yoga Clubs throughout the world.
Several years ago, I went to a Laughter Yoga class while on vacation. I hemmed and hawed about going to the class thinking that it sounded silly, but eventually I gave in. Following the teacher’s instructions, our group of about 20 women formed a circle and did some deep breathing, clapping and vocalizing of patterns such as “Hee Hee Ha Ha Ha”. Then we walked around the room and engaged one another with playful greetings and fake laughter. By the end of the hour we were all genuinely laughing and we left the class feeling relaxed and uplifted.
This type of program is not everyone’s cup of tea, yet for me the takeaway was that I should laugh more — I should lighten up. At times, the seriousness and daily grind of self-care can zap my sense of humor and I am sure you’ve felt the same way. But, if we think of laughter as part of healthy living, it seems less frivolous and more integral to our well-being.
The Mayo Clinic concurs that laughter has many salutary effects and recommends that we find ways to laugh regularly. They say that laughter can:
So, let’s try to benefit from laughter by looking for ways to let loose a guffaw or two during our day! Whether that means clicking over to an online joke site, watching a comedy hour or reminiscing with friends about something funny from the past, seek out opportunities to laugh.
Having grandchildren and watching them run around and be silly reminds me of how good it is to be present in the moment and enjoy life. My friends with pets have a similar experience watching the fun-loving antics of their cats and dogs. So, whatever our source of laughter, let’s remember that it nourishes the body and spirit.
#bronchiectasis #chronicdisease #positivethinking #laughter #laugh
1. Colburn, D. (October 21, 1986). Norman Cousins, Still Laughing. The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/wellness/1986/10/21/norman-cousins-still-laughing/e17f23cb-3e8c-4f58-b907-2dcd00326e22/
2. Body’s response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise, study finds. (2010) ScienceDaily.com. sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100426113058.htm
3. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019). Stress Relief From Laughter? It’s No Joke. Healthy Lifestyle-Stress Management. mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/streLss-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456
Linda Cooper Esposito, MPH is a health educator with bronchiectasis. She developed the BE CLEAR Method to Living with Bronchiectasis and writes with compassion and humor about this chronic lung disease.