In 1976, Norman Cousins, the revered editor of the Saturday Review, wrote a piece that signaled the arrival of laughter in the precincts of science. The piece, which was called “Anatomy of an Illness (as Perceived by the Patient)”, follows Cousins as he checks himself out of a hospital and into a hotel after the best conventional care failed to improve his ankylosing spondylitis—a crippling autoimmune spinal arthritis. Once inside his hotel room, he took megadoses of anti-inflammatory vitamin C and watched long hours of Marx Brothers movies and TV sitcoms.
He laughed and kept on laughing. He noticed that, as he did, his pain diminished. He felt stronger and better. As good an observer as any of his first-rate doctors, he developed his own dose-response curve: ten minutes of belly laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep. Soon enough, he became more mobile.
Cousins’ story brought the power of laughter onto the medical map, and since then, research has found that laughter can serve as the antidote for all kinds of conditions. Laughter has been shown to decrease stress levels and improve mood in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, to decrease hostility in patients in mental hospitals, and to lower heart rate and blood pressure and to enhance mood and performance in generally healthy IT professionals. In numerous experiments, people with every imaginable diagnosis have reduced their pain by laughing.
The point here is not to say that laughter is a cure-all for medical conditions. But what it does tell us is that by making laughter a part of our everyday life, we can better cope with worries, stressors, and self-condemning thinking patterns that can wreak havoc on our health. To learn more about the power of laughter, have a look right here.