My belief is that we are going to eventually discover that the most dramatic health benefits of humor are not in laughter, but in the cognitive and emotional management that humorous experiences provide. The experience of humor relieves emotional distress and assists in changing negative thinking patterns. —Steven M. Sultanoff, , M.D. Clinical Psychologist and author
Have you laughed out loud in the last 24 hours?
That is the third question in the Defy Aging Quiz on the website www.drbrickey.com. Dr. Michael Brickey, referred to by Internet Talk Radio as the preeminent Anti-Aging Psychologist in America, has made learning to age well his life’s work. He hosts a web radio talk show called “Ageless Lifestyles” and interviews various experts and commentators on positive aging topics.
In his writings, Dr. Brickey, a board-certified psychologist, devoted some space to the effect of laughter on our sense of well-being. Our brain, he said, is like a muscle and, like all the muscles in our body, if we don’t use it, we lose it. Good, hearty laughter increases the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, in our brain. Here’s how he explained it: “To appreciate humor requires a good understanding of both the culture and the language. Telling a joke also requires memory, timing, acting skills and a good sense of whether something is appropriate.”
Humor is one of the most intellectually complex things we do, Dr. Brickey continues. Laughing relaxes and tenses our muscles, giving us a mini workout. It gets our mind temporarily off problems and physical pain. Humor helps us turn past blunders and embarrassments into a good laugh. Laughter increases our alertness and mental functioning, and helps us not to take ourselves and our problems too seriously.
Some people credit the growth of scientific studies about the effect of humor on physical wellness to author Norman Cousins. Readers probably remember that, after years of pain from a serious illness, Cousins claimed to have cured himself by watching Marx Brothers movies. In his book, Anatomy of an Illness, Cousins said that laughter helped reduce his pain.
Since then, researchers continue to examine this phenomenon. In addition to reducing pain, laughter appears to decrease stress-related hormones and boost the immune system. Some hospitals today even offer laughter therapy programs as a complementary treatment for illness.
A hearty laugh has many physically positive benefits.
How can we make ourselves laugh more? Brickey suggests that we challenge ourselves to tell a joke or share some humor with someone every day. If your family eats dinner together, you could start a tradition of having family members share something humorous. We can at least look at one cartoon a day. On the internet, we can sign up to have a daily joke sent to us.
There is actually an Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. You can find it at www.aath.org. They held their 27th annual conference this year. AATH is committed to advancing the knowledge and understanding of humor and laughter as they relate to healing and well-being. Their web site provides links to related resources.
One of the most well-known proponents of laughter and humor for healing is speaker, nurse, and author Patty Wooten. Patty has frequently worked as a clown in children’s hospitals and is a founding member of the association mentioned above, AATH. Writing about this issue, Patty said, “Humor is a complex phenomenon that is an essential part of human nature. Throughout the ages, anthropologists have never found a culture or society that was completely devoid of humor. A sense of humor is both a perspective on life–a way of perceiving the world–and a behavior that expresses that perspective. It is a quality of perception that enables us to experience joy even when faced with adversity. To fully experience the joy that humor can bring, we must share that perspective with others and join together in the laughter.” Ms. Wooten’s Website is very informative, and she provides a large amount of information regarding therapeutic humor for patients at www.jesthealth.com.
Dr. Sultanoff has written: “Laughing together can be a time of intimacy and communion, a time when we come forward, fully present and touch into each other’s humanness and vulnerability. By joining in humor and acknowledging our oneness, we can have a profound experience of unity and cooperation. That in itself may be one of the most profound expressions of healing energy of which we are capable.”
Professor Sultanoff’s work, he says, is to help people realize how humor influences health, reduces stress, provides perspective, improves communication, energizes, enhances relationships and generally makes people feel better.”
Once again, looks like it was said first in the Bible. “A merry heart doeth good—like medicine.” A final word: Remember what Bob Hope said, “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Snore and you sleep alone.”
Thanks for reading. Stay well. See you next week