The healing prowess of Laughter
Today, life has become very sophisticated and stressful in all respects. Stress related diseases are on the rise. Suicidal rate is increasing alarmingly. Suicides have become a threatening psycho-social problem staring at us. According to the famous writer Philip Atkinson; stress is the twenty first century disease. It is estimated that more than 70 percent of illnesses are stress related.
Researchers have shown that the most powerful and natural antidote against stress is humour and laughter. Psychiatrists and psychologists are now using laughter as a weapon to combat depression and suicidal tendencies. There is no medicine like laughter which gives you instant results. Sigmund Freud rightly pointed out; ‘Humour and laughter help individuals to defend against anxieties, fears and other disturbing emotions’. The famous American author, Arnold Henry Glasow said; ‘Laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects’. The Wonderful healing powers of laughter and humour are now accepted by the medical community the world over.
Role of Norman Cousines
It was Norman Cousines, a well known American journalist, author and professor, who popularized the miraculous healing powers of laughter. In 1964, Cousines was diagnosed as having a serious and rare illness. He was told that he would be able to live only for a few months. So he decided to spend his last days doing what he liked most. He got discharged from the hospital and checked into a hotel where he obtained a movie projector and a number of funny movies and cartoons. He started watching these comic films and laughing loudly. In spite of his constant pain, he laughed and laughed forgetting everything. After the bouts of laughter he could sleep peacefully. He continued his daily laughter along with mega doses of Vitamin C and finally cured himself. This was a great surprise to the doctors. The story of his miraculous cure was published in the Journal of American Medical Association by Norman Cousines. He also published a book, ‘Anatomy of an Illness” which became a best seller. The medical world began to consider the matter of laughter a serious subject. Cousines’ experience and testimony triggered the interest of the researchers to seek scientific evidence for the healing powers of laughter.
Dr. William Fry, a Stanford Medical school psychiatrist found that ten seconds of vigorous laughter can double the heart rate as much as 10 minutes of strenuous rowing. In other words, ten seconds of vigorous laughter is equivalent to ten minutes of strenuous exercise..
Dr. Lee Berk of Lomalinda University Medical Centre proved that a bout of hearty laughter can increase the activity of disease fighting cells. Biologically laughter reduces stress hormones like cortisol, and increase hormones like endorphins which enhance your health. Laughter also raises DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) levels, which has anti-aging, anti-cancer effect and can boost mental abilities.
Dr. Robert Provine, professor of neurobiology and psychology at University of Maryland, Baltimore, who spent many years for the research on the effect of laughter on health, says; ‘Laughing is the body’s way of keeping us healthy’. Many hospitals have setup facilities for their patients to laugh and to be merry. Hospital experiments have been very successful. Duke University comprehensive cancer centre in Durham N.C, introduced a ‘laugh mobile’ as nurse’s pill cart to provide the service of volunteers to the patients for making them laugh.
In many Western countries, hospitals are utilizing the healing powers of laughter and humour for the speedy recovery of their patients. Humour rooms have been arranged with facilities like comic books, funny videos, humorous journals, cartoons etc. In Ottava Civic hospital cancer patients can use these ‘humour rooms’ round the clock. In some hospitals, comedy programmes are made available in the rooms of patients through cctvs. Clown Services are also available in a number of well known hospitals. The Big Apple circus clown care unit in Newyork city sends their clowns to nine famous hospitals. Now-a-days doctors are well aware of the healing powers of laughter and humour and have started prescribing them to their patients.
Holistic healing powers of laughter
Extensive research is being conducted all over the world on the wonderful effects of laughter. Studies have already shown that laughter acts in us at three levels.
- Physical level
- Mental level
- Spiritual level
According to Norman Cousines, ‘Laughter is inner jogging’. The muscles all over the body participate in laughing. It stimulates your heart, supplies lungs with more oxygen that stimulates the brain. It brings your blood pressure to a lower healthier level. Laughing is the body’s powerful way of self healing.
According to Dr. William Fry’s findings laughter produces similar physical effects of the best aerobic exercise within a short time. Dr. L.S. Berk discovered the beneficial effects of laughter on immune system and other major systems like autonomous nervous system, central nervous system, circulating system, endocrine system and muscular system.
Dr. Magon Robbins, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, found that laughter reduces arterial stiffness while also providing exercise to the muscles. Laughing out loud 20 times produces a cardiovascular workout similar to three minutes of work on a rowing machine.
Laughter gives instant relaxation to the tense mind, as well as to the body. According to Robbins, regular laughter was associated with lower levels of depression and higher levels of positive affect and emotions. Psycho somatic diseases, anxiety, depression, nervousness etc are treated by laughter. New studies have shown that laughter, especially with other people, can be regarded as a successful coping strategy. Laughter is one of the best anti -stress measures we can use without any cost or difficulty.
As the famous French philosopher, Henri Bergson said; ‘Laughter is a corrective force which prevents us from becoming cranks’
Thomas Mann, the great German literary legend and Nobel Prize winner, remarked; ‘Laughter is the sunbeam of the soul’. According to the greatest protestant theologian of the twentieth century, Karl Barth; ‘Laughter is the closest thing to the Grace of God’
Laughter is really the music of soul. It is instant meditation which gives you a spiritual experience and inner harmony. The famous Indian spiritual leader and mystic Guru, Osho loved laughter very much and he used it as a part of his meditation. He says; ‘Laughter brings inner energy to the fore. When you really laugh, for those few moments you are in a deep meditative state. Thinking stops. It is impossible to laugh and think together. When you really laugh, suddenly the mind disappears. And the whole Zen methodology is how to get to no mind’.
Laughter yoga is a combination of exercises and voluntary laughter. It has been proved that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous, natural laughter. Laughter yoga is done in groups, preferably in open parks or grounds. Laughter yoga sessions start with ice braking and warming up exercises including stretching, clapping, body movements, rhythmic breathing, chanting etc. Laughter yoga was popularized by the Indian doctor, Madan Kataria. He took leadership in the formation of a great number of laughter clubs in India and abroad.
Now-a-days laughter is widely used for treating many diseases and is called laughter therapy. Laughter clinics are not uncommon in several European countries. There are a good number of laughter clubs in India and abroad.
Laughter therapy is found highly effective in treating a number of diseases as a supplementary system. Peptic ulcer, nervous breakdown, depression, anxiety, asthma, hypertension, chronic worry, stage fright, insomnia, snoring, tiredness, heart problems, suicidal tendencies are all treated successfully with laughter therapy.
Laughter can be used in a multitude of ways by doctors, teachers, students, executives, H.R. managers, trainers, and counselors for solving problems and improving confidence and excellence. It helps children to develop positive attitude towards life and enhance their leadership qualities. According to Victor Borge, the popular Danish and American comedian and Pianist, ‘Laughter is the shortest distance between two people’. It improves interpersonal relations and communication. It spreads love and happiness among people.
Great men who loved to laugh
Mahatma Gandhi was a man who loved very much to laugh and he liked the company of cheerful people. Gandhiji once confessed; ‘If I had no sense of humour, I would long ago have committed suicide’.
Abraham Lincoln used to laugh when he was under stress and strain. His deep belly laughs were his most important release valve. He once confessed; ‘With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh, I should die.’
Albert Einstein had a robust sense of humour. In group photo sessions, he stuck out his tongue and made others laugh.
Winston Churchill was very famous for his sharp wit and humour. There are several famous jokes relating to the witty Winston Churchill.
The famous American writer and humanist Mark Twain once remarked; ‘The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter’. The habit of frequent hearty laughter will not only save many a doctors’ bill but, will also save years of your life. It increases stamina and improves athletic performance. Laughter gives exercise to facial muscles and increases blood supply to your facial skin making you look much younger and more attractive.
Laughter is the easiest and most economical de-stressing measures you can practice. Laughter is the spice of life. So never miss an opportunity to laugh heartily. Start the day with laughter which will keep you in good spirits, throughout the day. Also, end the day with laughter which will give a relaxing and refreshing sleep throughout the night. Let us not forget the advice of Chelsea Handler, the famous American writer, comedian and actress; ‘Laugh loudly, laugh often, and most important, laugh at yourself’.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. JOHN MUZHUTHETTU is a Human Resource Consultant, National Trainer and Counselor. Formerly he was the Deputy Chief Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board and is still working as an external faculty of HRD Programmes of KSEB. He is also a faculty of Department of Management Studies, Mar Augusthinose College, Ramapuram, under M.G.University, Kerala. He is the PG course co-ordinator of MHRM.
He is columnist in several Magazines, like ‘Business Deepika’, ‘Creative Business’, ‘Donbosco’ etc. His articles have been published in many magazines and journals. His several speeches have been aired by All India Radio. His interviews on various subjects have been telecasted by Power Vision TV . He is the author of five best-selling books:
- ‘Stress-Manassasthra- Aathmeeya Pariharangel’. (Current Books, Thrissur) 4th Edition
- Vijayiyude Vyakthithwam (Current Books, Thrissur)
- Jeevitham Santhushtamakan, Nithya Yauvanam Nedan.(css,Thiruvalla)2ndEdition
- Emotional Intelligence-Jeevithavijayathinu (CSS, Thiruvalla)
- Vijayarahsyangal (Current Books, Thrissur)
As a trainer, he has conducted more than thousand seminars and workshops for teachers, parents, students, executives and others, on several subjects like Stress Management, Time Management, Personality Development, Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual intelligence for Excellence, Communicative Skills, Assertiveness, Motivation, Study Skills, Effective Parenting, Counselling Skills etc. He is an external training faculty of Power Engineers Training and Research Centre of KSEB. He is an external faculty of IMG Cochin. He is also the Secretary of Upasana Cultural Centre, Thodupuzha.