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Healing Laughter

It was in 1964 that Norman Cousins, editor of The Saturday Review, checked out of the hospital a few weeks after having been diagnosed with a very serious illness, a rare condition that affects the body's connective tissues. His chance of recovery, he was told, was one in five hundred. Barely able to move, and in intense pain, Cousins had two very important realizations. One was that the pain medication he was receiving was worsening his condition. The other was that the hospital was a bad place in which to be sick. So he stopped taking the medication, and he checked into a hotel and began a regimen of high doses of vitamin C and laughter therapy."

His reading of several classic books on the subject of stress convinced him that disease was fostered by the chemical changes in the body produced by emotions such as anger and fear. Would an antidote of hope, love, laughter, and the will to live do the opposite? He was determined to try it and to be the one of the five hundred who successfully recovered.

In a remarkably short time, he found that short periods of hearty laughter, encouraged by watching Marx Brothers movies and Candid Camera TV sequences, were enough to induce several hours of painless sleep. He read books of humorous stories and jokes and continued his "laughter therapy." It was working. Slowly but steadily he began to regain control of his body. He could move without excruciating pain. He could turn his head. He could live again!

Life is too close for comfort. —Lee Lozowick

The whole experience created in him an overwhelming respect for the ability of the body-mind to heal itself, when nourished by the conditions, the environment, that allow it to reestablish its natural balance.

Worldwide interest in establishing the benefits of laughter and humor in health continues to grow, supported by wide-ranging scientific research. The Humor Project Inc., based in Saratoga Springs, New York, one of many associations dedicated to tickling the funny bone, publishes Laughing Matters magazine in twenty countries, and offers Daily Laffirmations through its website,

Therapeutic humor is any intervention that promotes health and wellness by stimulating a playful discovery, expression, or appreciation of the absurdity or incongruity of life's situations. This intervention may enhance health or be used as a complementary treatment of illness to facilitate healing or coping, whether physical, emotional, cognitive, social, or spiritual. —The American Association of Therapeutic Humor

Raymond Moody Jr., MD, the author of Laugh after Laugh: The Healing Power of Humor, has used this approach with his patients for many years. Humor works, he claims, because laughter helps take your mind off pain and problems and catalyzes the basic will to live.

Critics of this "mind over matter" approach credit the placebo effect for its positive outcome. If you believe something strongly enough, they say, you will produce it. Hooray for that! If that is the mechanism that is working here, then we all need to learn the skills for fostering such belief. As we begin to understand the secrets of the brain, we learn that our thoughts do trigger the pituitary gland, which directs the rest of the endocrine system. The role that these glands play in establishing the body's equilibrium has been known for centuries. Perhaps now we will gain some insight into how it all happens. In the meantime, let's keep laughing.

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