LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE
I don’t know about you, but I am done with the doom and gloom of COVID. It’s exhausting. I am ready to return to the days when we had fun. There is nothing quite as energizing as a hearty laugh. At least Larry Wilde, an author and humorist, thought so when he designated April 1976 the first celebration of National Humor Month.
There are several milestones in the history of laughter as medicine. The first belongs to Norman Cousins. Diagnosed in 1964 with ankylosing spondylosis, a progressive and crippling arthritis of the spine, he was given a 1/500 chance of recovering. None too happy with these odds, he started his own research. He looked back to the onset of his disease and noted it had been after a particularly stressful period of work in Moscow. During that time, he was working day and night and was also repeatedly exposed to diesel exhaust. He sought to learn everything he could about the physiological and psychological effects of stress. There wasn’t much data available then, but he did note that negative emotions increased stress and posited that perhaps positive emotions could reverse it. He started his therapy by watching Groucho Marx movies and reruns of Candid Camera, a hidden camera practical joke television show. He learned that 10 minutes of humor equated to two hours of pain-free sleep. With his humor therapy and mega doses of Vitamin C he went on to live another 26 years. He hesitated to share his results as he was fearful of giving people false hope. He published his story, Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient, in 1979 and several updated editions have been published since.
A second milestone in the history of laughter as medicine may be a little more familiar. Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, portrayed by Robin Williams in the 1998 film, is a physician and clown who has devoted his life to changing health care. He believes that healing begins with a mutually trusting relationship between doctor and patient. He created a healing community founded in care (not cure) and treated over 15,000 patients in a six-bedroom house in West Virginia. He later founded The Gesundheit! Institute, a 501.c.3 non-profit healthcare project, that is currently in its 50th year. He is quite a character. Checkout his website www.patchadams.org. Better yet, watch the movie.
Fast-forward to today where the effect of humor (and other emotions) on health is actually a field of study called psychoneuroimmunology. Since the 1970’s, pioneers in this field have clinically proven that laughter supports health my increasing circulation, boosting antibody production, and releasing endorphins which naturally decrease pain. Further, laugher reduces stress hormones both in the near and long term.
Being tired of all the doomsday news and fortified by a game of golf played with a few lunatic colleagues have led me to declare no more taking life so seriously. I am watching comedies and comedians. I am spending time with people who are self-effacing. And we wellness geeks are filling our company intranet with ridiculous memes, favorite jokes, and memories of big laughs we have shared. And we are going to start pranking again. It’s time. I am going to dust off my alligator claw back scratcher and my cat meow gag and find them each a new home.
I am determined to bring the fun back to dysfunctional. What are you going to do to join in?
Patricia M. Fuller has dedicated the last 20+ years to designing and delivering wellness programs. Her events earn consistently excellent ratings for her holistic approach and her real world application.
Prior to concentrating in wellness, Pat taught accounting and auditing as an adjunct professor at the University of Tampa. She earned her CPA designation in 1992 as a senior associate for Coopers & Lybrand. She has a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Utah.
Pat has a PhD in holistic nutrition. In 2010, she was board certified by the Holistic Nutrition Credentialing Board. Her areas of research include stress management and eating habits. She is a Certified Wellcoach and a member of the Institute of Coaching. She is an annual attendee to The Harvard Medical School Conference, Coaching In Leadership & Healthcare.
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