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  • Writer's pictureMary Hansbrough

Humor and Health

Diverse literature suggests that effects of humor on various outcomes such as stress, health and immune function have been well-documented by empirical research and are therefore commonly accepted.

In 1979, Norman Cousins published a book Anatomy of an Illness in which he described a potentially fatal disease he contracted in 1964 and his discovery of the benefits of humor and other positive emotions in battling the disease. He found, for example that ten minutes of mirthful laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep.

Dr. Fry began to examine the physiological effects of laughter in the late 1960's and is considered the father of 'getotology' (the science of laughter). Dr. Fry proved that mirthful laughter provides good physical exercise and decrease the chances of respiratory infections. He showed that laughter causes the body to produce endorphins (natural painkillers).

In one study heart attack patients were divided into two groups: one half was placed under standard medical care and the other half watched humorous videos for thirty minutes each day. After one year the "humor" group had fewer arrhythmias, lower blood pressure, lower levels of stress hormones, and required lower doses of medication. The non-humor group had two and a half times more recurrent heart attacks than the humor group (50% vs 20%).

Research has proved time and time again the health benefits of humor. Laughter is good, not only for the soul, but also for the body. Benefits have been reported in geriatrics, oncology, critical care, and general patients. These and other reports constitute sufficient substantiation to support what is experientially evident---laughter and humor are therapeutic allies in healing.

According to the Mayo Clinic (2013), a good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn't just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:

  • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.

  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.

  • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

Laughter isn't just a quick pick-me-up, though. It 's also good for you over the long haul. Laughter may:

  • Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.

  • Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders.

  • Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.

  • Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and make you feel happier.

Humor and laughter can be an effective self-care and care-giving tool. The body, mind and spirit all benefit from its regular use. Laughter is a good and alternative therapy that is free and provides tremendous physical and mental benefits.


Humor and laughter may influence health. eCAM, 3(1), 61-63.

Stress Management. Mayo Clinic (2013).

Laughter prescription. Canadian Family Physician, 55, 965-967.

#laughter #health #humor #selfcare #painrelief #immune

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