Our wasted days are the days we never laugh. -African Proverb
We all have that friend who sees the good in everything. They’re good people but kind of sickening in large doses. I can only hold that positive energy for a certain amount of time before the string of F-bombs flow in the direction of those I consider villains. The major players in the creation of today’s negativity and bad news are infuriating, and I suspect they know that fascism grows most effectively when people give up on better days. But, the constant flow of bad news not only feeds our demons, but it also changes your brain and makes you become anxious, sad, and depressed.
The expensive way to cope with the deluge of bad stuff is to see a therapist. The cheap fix for it is to infuse yourself with laughter. Good, old-fashioned, belly-shaking guffaws. There are mental and physical reasons why laughing is the best medicine. It’s sure as hell the least expensive.
I have no idea how “they” measured this, but scientists claim toddlers and children under the age of five, laugh at least 300 times a day while adults average fewer than 15 times a day. Small children have a lot to laugh about; the fortunate ones live rent-free, care-free, and they don’t have jobs. Play is their work. You’ll even notice that as young children pretend to be adults, they take on serious, angry faces. Wow… that’s how they see us! All this frowning and feeling bad is not good for us. Seriously. We must laugh.
Laughter Studies are No Joke
From the Mayo Clinic to Harvard and institutions around the world, the study of laughter’s impact on human health is documented. The results are the same; laughter heals mind and body.
The Mayo Clinic lists the short- and long-term effects of laughter. The quick fix stimulates the organs by increasing the intake of oxygen. Laughter releases endorphins and stimulates the heart, lungs, and muscles.
We can better manage stress with big belly laughs because laughter activates and relieves our stress response. We become relaxed, lower our heart rate, and blood pressure while improving our circulation.
In the long term, we strengthen our immune systems when we allow ourselves to laugh. In the same way that negative thoughts cause chemical reactions (we’ve all heard that stress kills), positive thoughts release neuropeptides that fight stress. Additionally, laughter relieves pain and enables us to deal with the challenges of life more effectively. It connects us to other humans in a constructive way.
Two Laughing Guys and the Movies About Them
Former journalist and optimist Norman Cousins survived 36 years after his first heart disease diagnosis, 26 years after being written off over a collagen illness, and 10 years after his first heart attack. Cousins did research on human emotions and biochemistry. He created his own recovery program for the crippling connective tissue disease known as collagen disease. When doctors told him he had a one in 500 chance of recovery, he turned to the show, Candid Camera, practiced belly laughter, and took enormous amounts of vitamin C.
In his own way, Cousins discovered laugh therapy and wrote about it in his book, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient. Actor Ed Asner portrayed Cousins in the1984 television movie based on the book, Anatomy of an Illness.
In the 1986 Washington Post article, Norman Cousins, Still Laughing, Cousins said, "I'd much rather take my chances with hope than with despair."
Another famous joy booster was depicted by late comedian Robin Williams in the 1998 movie, Patch Adams. Hunter Doherty "Patch" Adams is described as a physician, comedian, social activist and clown. The death of his Army officer father when he was only 16 years old sent Adams into an understandable depression. It was compounded by the racism and segregation he witnessed among his peers, and by being bullied. He became depressed and suicidal. The change came for him when he decided to create revolution rather than kill himself.
I read that while in medical training, he turned mundane tasks entertaining by chanting them.
Adams and his wife founded the Gesundheit! Institute in 1971 which is described as a communal home of holistic care and fundraising. And as we saw in the movie, he organizes volunteers who bring humor to orphans and patients all over the world dressed as clowns.
Adams believes in the powerful connection between illness and the environment, and that the health of an individual is not separate from the health of family, the community and the world. He lectures internationally about his approach to healing.
Laughing While Healing Is Not New
Visits to comedians were prescribed by ancient Greek physicians because entertainment was part of the healing process. Indigenous Peoples of this continent had clowns work alongside Witch Doctors. And in the 1300’s, surgeon Henri de Mondeville supposedly told jokes to his patients in the recovery room.
I always wondered if Court Jesters had a purpose beyond entertainment. Their primary role was to relieve stress the royals had from their governing duties.
The National Institute of Health warns, “This negative spiral — lately dubbed “doom scrolling” — can take a toll on mental health. Studies have linked the consumption of bad news to increased distress, anxiety, and depression, even when the news in question is relatively mundane.”
Studies also show that bad news is insidious. It can amplify personal worries and cause acute stress.
Fortunately, laughter is contagious. My twin granddaughters used to speak their twin-language, stare into each other’s faces and burst into gut-chuckles. Everyone in the room would laugh. The other two granddaughters seem to have private jokes that launch them into never-ending giggles. I find it impossible to keep a straight face while under the mysterious spell of small children laughing.
Today, us grown-ups have to get help like laughter yoga and laugh therapy to pull us out of the funk. And it’s important that we do. The American Lung Association says, “We all need a good laugh every now and then, especially in these challenging times. Now, more than ever, there may be a good reason to put on a rom-com or comedy special and laugh away your troubles.”
Some practitioners encourage people who have trouble laughing to, fake it until you make it. That friend who finds good in all things is on to something. Whether you get a lift from Saturday Night Live or your favorite stand-up, laughing will help you release the bad news of the day and soothe the soul.