When you experience a good laugh your brain secretes endorphins and the movement of laughter within your body actually exercises many muscles of the body. Endorphins are the “feel-good” brain chemicals which raise both your mood and your ability to cope. Laughter research has shown that humor helps to keep your body strong and disease resistant.
There are two kinds of stress, good stress and bad stress. Laughter is a form of good stress, or stress in reverse. Bad stress suppresses the immune system.
At California’s Loma Linda University Medical Center, Lee Berk, assistant research professor, and Stanley Tan, Endocrinologist have been studying the effects of laughter on body. Dr. Tan and Berk wanted to determine if a form of good stress, or laughter, would improve the immune system.
They discovered that after their research subjects faced a solid hour of induced joy and laughter from videos and comedians, the subjects showed an increase in the good hormones – such as endorphins and neurotransmitters – and decreased levels of the stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline.
Laughter is one of the body’s safety valves, a counter balance to tension. When we release that tension, the elevated levels of the body’s stress hormones drop back to normal, thereby allowing our immune systems to work more effectively.
Dr. Gael Crystal and Patrick Flanagan, are world recognized researchers, medical doctors, scientists and metaphysicians who have received a Nobel Prize nomination. The doctors Flanagan teach us they discovered laughter is a form of internal jogging that exercises the body and stimulates the release of beneficial brain neurotransmitters and hormones. Positive outlook and laughter are actually good for our health!
The Anatomy of an Illness
Based on his personal experience of illness, Norman Cousins wrote the book, “The Anatomy of an Illness”. He explains “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, he would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.”
At age 11, Norman Cousins was misdiagnosed with tuberculosis and placed in a sanatorium. As an adult he was diagnosed with heart disease, suffered a heart attack and during the 1960’s he was told he had a minimal chance of surviving a mysterious life threatening illness.
Cousins suffered from a degenerative disease that caused the breakdown of his collagen, the fibrous tissue that binds together the body’s cells. He was almost paralyzed, given only a few months to live, when he checked himself out of the hospital. He moved into a hotel room, began taking mega doses of vitamin C, ordered a movie projector, all the movies which he knew would make him laugh and maintained a positive attitude. His struggle with this illness and the regimen he created to cure himself is detailed in the book and movie, “Anatomy of an Illness”.
Norman Cousins is known for his unconventional method of healing and his recipe for good health? Throughout his life and his active and prominent career he was challenged by a variety of extremely serious health problems. His recipe for good health was laughter mega doses of vitamin C and a positive attitude. His unconventional approach to disease, and his research into the mind-body relationship at UCLA Medical School earned him the only MD degree ever awarded to a layman at Yale University.
Despite the extremely serious illnesses which plagued him, Cousins (June 24, 1915 through November 30, 1990) led an extraordinary life. He was a prominent political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate. He received hundreds of awards including the Peace Medal from the United Nations. Cousins received nearly fifty honorary doctorate degrees and served as a diplomat during three presidential administrations.
During a lifetime of multiple life threatening illnesses and in addition to his work as journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate Cousins served as Adjunct Professor of Medical Humanities for the School of Medicine at the University of California. Even though his health was in a delicate condition he did research on the biochemistry of human emotions, which he believed was the key to the success in fighting illness. He held this belief as he experienced heart disease, which he chose to treat by taking massive doses of Vitamin C and training himself to laugh. In 1980 he wrote an autobiographical memoir, Human Options: An Autobiographical Notebook and through the years authored a series of non-fiction books about heath and healing.
He died in 1990 10 years after his first heart attack, 16 years after his collagen illness, and 26 years after his doctors first diagnosed his heart disease. His life bears witness to his belief in the body’s ability to heal naturally and to the perseverance with which he led his life. He did not give up! May we all benefit from the profound example that his life well lived demonstrated for us.
In our quest to find the things in life which will evoke laughter within us it is essential we never laugh at another person or at another person’s expense. If we hurt another person in the process of healing ourselves we will defeat any benefit we might have realized for ourselves. For humor and laughter to be truly effective in our lives we must come from a place of compassion and empathy. When in doubt we can always depend upon the Golden Rule to guide us. Healthy laughter comes from a place of caring and kindness.