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Articles & Publications

Spring 2007

Medical Benefits of Laughter
by Diane Kane, Certified Laughter Leader

The benefits of laughter, humor, and optimism have been known since Biblical times, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)  Thousands of years later, scientific research continues to produce evidence of the beneficial effects of laughter, but perhaps one of the most important is that it prevents hardening of the attitudes.  Laughter is useful in helping to relieve stress and sustaining the ability to travel comfortably down the road of life, even when the road may be bumpy.

Healthcare workers and family caregivers can experience what is known as compassion fatigue, feeling that they have very little left to give.  The manifestations of the stress sometimes go unrecognized.  Humor will not eliminate the source of the problem, but is a valuable tool in being better able to cope with it.

We are just beginning to uncover more ways in which laughter can produce positive medical outcomes:

  • improved blood flow, with the possibility of preventing heart disease
  • improving the immune system, by reducing cortisol (stress hormone)
  • alleviate sadness which can lead to depression
  • improved self confidence

Dr. Michael Miller, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine was very enthusiastic about the results of a recent study involving the benefits of laughter and said, “The magnitude of change we saw in the endothelium is similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic activity, but without the aches, pains and muscle tension associated with exercise. We don’t recommend that you laugh and not exercise, but we do recommend that you try to laugh on a regular basis. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system.  At the very least, laughter offsets the impact of mental stress, which is harmful to the endothelium.”   (“Impact of cinematic viewing on endothelial function” M Miller, et al, Heart 2006 92: 261-262.)

The word “worry” comes from the Old English word wyrgan, which meant “to strangle,” much like the way a wolf strangles its prey.  When we worry, we cut off our life supply of optimism and magic.  With worry there is no room for hope. Studies have shown that laughing at funny videos when we are worried, stressed, or in pain can help us to take the focus off of the negative events in our lives, enabling us to lessen the worry and helping to increase our ability to withstand pain.  “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs...jolted by every pebble in the road.”  (Henry Ward Beecher)

Chronic illness can lead to feelings of anger and grief because of feelings that:

  • Your body is failing you
  • The doctors don’t have a perfect answer
  • Those who are close to you don’t really understand what you are experiencing
  • Why would God allow this to happen?
  • You mourn the loss of your good health
  • Your life has been interrupted
  • Your future is uncertain

A positive attitude can assist you on this emotional journey.  “Even if you or your doctor can’t do any more for your disease than you are doing, you can still do more for your life.  You can always learn to live better with Parkinson’s [or any other disease] since how you live with your illness comes from your mental outlook—and your mental outlook is something you can do something about. ( Mark Flapan, PhD “Living with Parkinson’s” The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation Newsletter Autumn 1989.)

Laughter is even useful in hospice care.  In the book, Caregiving: Hospice-Proven Techniques for Healing Body and Soul, Douglas Smith lists “The right to laughter” among the “Bill of Patient’s Rights.” A person with a serious illness knows that laughter is taking place at the nurse’s station and up and down the halls.  He or she feels totally excluded from life when family and caregivers enter the room with solemn faces.  85% of terminally ill patients felt that humor would be helpful in their care, but only 14% experienced humor from caregivers. (Kaye Herth, American Journal of Hospice Care, 1990)

Laughter is a lot like changing a baby’s diaper.  It doesn’t permanently solve any problems, but it does make things better for a little while!

Laughter really is the best medicine.

  • It is covered by your insurance plan.
  • You can’t overdose or become addicted.
  • Benefits are felt immediately.
  • Adverse reactions are very rare.
  • Don’t keep it bottled up.
  • No child-proof caps to deal with.
  • Supply is endless. 
  • You will never need to get a refill.
  • Important to use often before expiration.

The second half of maintaining a happy and optimistic outlook can be explained in “The Steps to Good Hearted Living.”

Mondays are for compliments:  If anything goes bad, I did it.  If anything goes semi-good, then we did it.  If anything goes real good, then you did it.  That’s all it takes to get people to win football games.  (Bear Bryant)   

Tuesdays are for flexibility:  When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.   (Helen Keller)             

Wednesdays are for gratitude:  You can either despair that the rose bush has thorns, or you can rejoice that the thorn bush has roses.  (Anonymous)   

Thursdays are for kindness:   A pessimist, they say, sees a glass of water as being half-empty; an optimist sees the same glass of water as being half-full.  But, a giving person sees a glass of water and starts looking for someone who might be thirsty.  (G. Donald Gale)   

Fridays are for forgiveness:     Never hold a grudge. While you're holding a grudge, the other guy is out dancing.   (Buddy Hackett)

Weekends are for chocolate and things that bring sweetness to your life:  If you are having dark thoughts on weekends, make sure that it’s because of chocolate!    

One of the best things one can do in the morning is make the person in the mirror laugh and start the day off in a positive mood. Retired Army Col. James L. "Scottie" Scott, The Laughing Colonel                                                                                                                                         



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