When was the last time you had a good belly laugh? Medical research now confirms that laughter is a powerful medicine in alleviating the impact that stressful events have on our lives. In addition, studies have shown that laughter actually prevents and reverses disease.
In 1976, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article written by Norman Cousins (former editor of the Saturday Review) who claimed that just 10 minutes of hearty laughter had a reliable analgesic effect in providing two hours of pain free sleep. The beneficial effect of vigorous laughter is attributed to reduced muscle tension, increased oxygenation of blood, exercising of the heart muscles and endorphin production. After Cousins was diagnosed with a degenerative disease, he checked himself out of the hospital, into a hotel, and spent the weekend watching his favorite comedies such as the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. He laughed for hours. He reported that watching the films decreased his pain and helped him to sleep better.
If we think about it, the importance of laughter has been recognized by sages for thousands of years. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine (Proverbs 17-22). “Laughter is the best medicine” and “Smile and the world smiles with you” are adages that have been passed down from generation to generation. The 1998 film “Patch Adams” focused on the benefit of laughter as a healing therapy. A bit more recent is the incorporation of laughter into the practice of yoga. This new practice is called Laughter Yoga, using a series of specific exercises aimed at inducing laughter.
Medical and scientific studies concluded that a unique pattern of brain-wave activity occurs during the perception of humor. Interestingly, an average child laughs about 150 times a day while the average adult laughs only 15 times a day.
A study in Finland found that humor makes it easier for some elderly residents in a nursing home to experience a positive, human relationship with the nurses. Another study conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine for New York employed laughter as a component of treatment therapy with suicidal and depressed elderly patients. Results concluded that humor reduces stress.
Humor therapy is a vital component of the therapeutic recreation activities at Gurwin. A general consensus of increased feelings of well-being, after a humor therapy program, validates the power of laughter.
Here are some questions to help you identify how much laughter is in your life:
· What is the nature of your own sense of humor?
· Do you laugh at yourself?
· Do you laugh freely?
· What makes you laugh?
· Can you find humor even in stressful situations?
· Are you playful?
· When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
By Karen Nash, CTRS
Karen laughs daily as the Director of Therapeutic Recreation at the Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. For more information on Gurwin, visit www.gurwin.org.