In the Bible, the Book of Proverbs tells us: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
This seems to be authenticated in many scientific studies.
Perhaps this was best brought to our attention by Norman Cousins, the former editor of The Saturday Review. Cousins had a debilitating condition called ankylosing spondylitis, a painful condition of the spine.
When conventional medicine failed to give him relief, he started a regimen of watching Marx Brothers films and other comedies. He found that “10 minutes of belly laughter” and megadoses of vitamin C gave him two hours of pain-free sleep.
He then wrote a book, “Anatomy of an Illness,” which opened the door to further research into this concept.
Of the studies that followed, research at the University of Kentucky found that:
On average, a child laughs 300 times a day while an adult laughs only 17 times a day.
Most laughter comes from spending time with family and friends.
Smiling is a mild silent form of laughing.
Researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effects of humor versus drama on blood vessels. They found that comedies caused normal effects on blood vessels while people who watched more serious drama tended to tense up, causing restricted blood flow.
Another researcher William Fry claimed it took 10 minutes on a rowing exercise machine for his heart to reach the level it would after just one minute of hearty laughter.
Laughter leads to physical changes in your body. For starters, it increases the amount of oxygen you take in, which boosts your heart, lung and muscle function. It also helps to stimulate your circulation while at the same time relaxing your muscles.
Plus, laughter stimulates your brain to produce more endorphins, and neurotransmitters that not only make you feel happier but also reduce feelings of pain, according to a March 2012 article in the science journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.
Equally as important are the effects of laughing on the immune system. You will remember from a previous column on the subject that this is one of the protective systems in our bodies and laughing boosts what are called “natural killer” cells. NK cell activity has been linked to disease resistance in persons with cancer and HIV.
One study of 19 people with diabetes, noted online at WebMD.com, looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. After eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had more normal blood sugar levels than they did after the tedious lecture.
Some tips to start with:
Look for everyday humor in the silly and absurd things that go on around you each day. For example, start by looking at yourself in the mirror when you wake each morning.
Observe children to learn how they find delight in the most ordinary things.
Increase your exposure to comedies and funny things.
Hang around funny, or at least less serious, people.
Avoid things like news that upsets or frightens you.
Author and clinical psychologist Catherine Fenwick says it all:
“Your body cannot heal without play. Your mind cannot heal without laughter. Your soul cannot heal without joy.”
Let me get you started with a few zingers:
“I went on a diet, swore off drinking and overeating, and in 14 days I had lost exactly two weeks.” — Joe E. Lewis
“Whoever called it necking was a poor judge of anatomy.” — Groucho Marx (and yours truly, Dr. T.)
And a couple of my favorite jokes:
A man goes to the eye doctor. The receptionist asks him why he’s there.
“I keep seeing spots in front of my eyes,” he complains.
“Have you seen a doctor before?” the receptionist asks.
“No, just spots,” the man says.
A man in no shape to drive wisely parked his car and started walking home one night. Staggering along the road, he was stopped by a policeman.
“What are you doing out here at 2 a. m.?” said the officer.
“I’m going to a lecture.” the man said.
“And just who is going to give a lecture at this hour?”
Retired chiropractic doctor Francis Trapani’s background includes 41 years of practice plus teaching physiology, anatomy and nutrition at the college level. Now living in Walla Walla, he has written three books and is working on a yoga self-help manual. For more information, go to drftrapani.com.