Laughter isn't just fun and enjoyable, it's good for our health. Each
month modern medicine is discovering more about the therapeutic dimension
of humour and laughter and is encouraging us to add them to our
The medical profession is currently quite tickled by the concept of
Fascinating new research seems to be endorsing the ancient wisdom that
laughter, happiness and a joyful heart are "jolly" good medicines!
Imagine the following scene: you are down to your last nerve, your muscles
are cooked, your hair is clenched, you have lock-jaw, you can breathe
in but you don't feel much like breathing in, your heart beats only
when it can find the time, and your head is auditioning for a part in
You tell your doctor that life's got it in for you, that you and God
have a personality clash, and that you feel the Universe quite simply
doesn't want to involve you in its plans. Your doctor reaches for the
pill pad, writes something, rips the sheet from the pad, and hands you
a prescription not for tranquillisers or anti-depressants, but for ...
Does the idea of a Government-backed Laughter Clinic make you smile?
Funnily enough, in September 1991, I had the joyful privilege of opening
the doors to Britain's first official Laughter Clinic. Two years after
founding the first National Health Service Stress
Buster Clinic, I had felt the time was right for a new approach
- something radical, something fun, something even more life-enhancing
- "If only I could bottle and prescribe laughter," I thought.
The Laughter Clinic Project is perhaps best described as, "a support
group for joy"!
The term, "laughter medicine" is used as a playful metaphor
for exploring central themes such as:
Over 10,000 doctors, nurses, psychologists and other health professionals
have attended a training event involving The
Happiness Project over the last six years. Modern medicine, so often
accused of being over-chemical, over-technical, over-reductionist and
over-preoccupied with illness, is showing a renewed willingness to explore
the potential medicinal role of laughter, happiness, love, touch, music,
play, tears and smiling, for instance, in health. Intuitively, we know
that laughter is good for us. Think for a moment how your body feels
whenever you laugh or smile - words like "relaxed", "warm", "whole",
"free" and "light hearted" often come to mind. Trust your inner-tuition!
Laughter, happiness and a joyful heart really do offer a medicinal,
therapeutic touch. It is as if health, happiness, humour and a sense
of wholeness are a wonderful string quartet that plays a healing harmony
and a marvellous melody.
There is an old saying, "Your day goes the way the corners of your mouth
turn"! Medical research has measured extensively the movements we make
on our face and also our entire body when we smile and when we laugh.
The research concludes that it is possible for all 600 muscles of the
body to move during laughter - thus laughter has been playfully labelled
by some as a form of "internal aerobics".
A joyful belly-laugh can exercise thoroughly the muscles, nerves and
organs of the main torso. If you were able to sustain a belly-laugh
for one full hour, you could laugh off as many as 500 calories! Why
not try it - one full hour of "transcendental
chuckling" to improve your fitness levels! Medical research also
shows that whenever we laugh we release a wave of chemicals through
the body including the endorphin hormone which is also released during
healthy exercise. Endorphins ("of morphine") are the body's natural
pain-relaxant - they stimulate feelings of well-being, joy and release
Enough laughter will produce enough endorphins to guarantee a "high-impact"
internal aerobic work-out!
relaxation + play
One of the mottoes of The Laughter Clinic Project is, "If you are too
busy to laugh, you are too busy!" We instinctively turn to laughter
whenever we require rest, relaxation and a release from tension. While
we laugh, our whole body is exercised; after we finish laughing, our
whole body begins to "lighten up" during an "after-glow" period in which
we relax muscle tension, reduce stress in the nerves, massage the lungs,
restore a full and flowing breathing pattern and gently expand our circulation
Laughter is a cheap ozone-friendly form of energy of which the more
of it is spent the more of it remains. Laughter is an impulse that beckons
us to balance rush with rest, work with play, seriousness with fun,
heavy with light. We don't stop laughing because we grow old, we grow
old because we stop laughing. The playwright, Moliere, put it this way:
"Our minds need relaxation, and give way / Unless we mix with work a
In Proverbs 17:22 it is written, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine;
but a broken spirit drieth the bones". Since time immemorial, sages
and physicians alike have advocated a "merry heart" as a perfect remedy
for life 's lessons. For instance, the Greek poet, Pindar, wrote, "The
best of healers is good cheer"; and, the poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Joy, temperance and repose,
Slam the door on the doctor's nose.
It is fitting then that modern medical research should discover that
laughter is a good medicine for the heart. The effect of laughter on
the heart is rather like a vigorous massage. During laughter, the heart
beat quickens and blood pressure rises; after laughter, both heart rate
and blood pressure drop to a point that is lower than its initial resting
rate. Laughter is a loving medicine.
Perhaps the most exciting medical research on laughter is in the field
of "psycho-neuro-immunology" which looks at the effect of the mind on
the brain and on the immune system. This research shows that whereas
suppressed anger or feelings of intense hatred or frustration, for instance,
disturbs the natural, healthy functioning of the immune system, laughter,
joy and happiness have been found to help boost the immune system.
The repeated research experiments of Dr Lee Berk at Loma Linda University
School of Medicine, CA, shows that laughter, happiness and joy "inspire"
the immune system to create white "T" cells, commonly called "happy
cells", which help to prevent infection. The philosopher, Friedrich
Wilhelm Nietzsche, hit upon the idea of joyful immunity when he wrote,
"Contentment preserves one even from catching cold. Has a woman who
knew that she was well dressed ever caught a cold? - No, not even when
she had scarcely a rag to her back!"
comic stress relief
Dr Berk's research work has also found that the "mirthful laughter experience",
as he calls it, appears to reduce serum levels of cortisol, dopac, adrenaline
and growth hormone, thereby creating a reverse effect to the classical
hormone response during times of stress. Both physically and psychologically,
it is as if laughter acts as a "safety valve" for the discharge of nervous
Laughter can help us to wipe the slate clean in that it can inspire
a fresh perception, a new way of thinking, a change of belief, and the
revelation of previously unimagined possibilities. Laughter inspires
lateral thinking. Laughter is also a good antidote to the over-seriousness
that swells during times of stress and anxiety. Over-seriousness blows
up problems; laughter blows them away! The psychologist and mystic,
Alan Watts, once wrote, "The whole art of life is in knowing how to
transform anxiety into laughter".
the shortest distance
Laughter can either serve to build barriers or bridges. In other words,
sometimes people laugh when what the really need to do is cry. "Learn
weeping and you shall gain laughing," goes an old saying. The "tears
of a clown" syndrome of many comedians who are depressives suggests
that laughter of itself is not enough - true health requires us to have
an honest, loving respect for all the emotions. Let the whole symphony
At best, laughter helps to build bridges. Victor Borge, the American
entertainer, once wrote, "Laughter is the shortest distance between
two people". Whole-hearted laughter teaches love. inspires hope, preaches
tolerance and encourages contact and communication. True humour inspires
true humanity. The actor Alan Alda put it another way: "when people
are laughing, they're generally not killing one another".
A favourite motto of The Happiness Project is, "The most wasted day
of all is a day in which we have not laughed". Whole-hearted laughter
is a re-creation, a celebration, a creative impulse that encourages
us to take the moment playfully. Laughter can transform an ordinary
moment into something extraordinary; it can energise us and optimise
us; it can conjure up a blessing from any burden.
Above all, the spirit of laughter beckons us to live fully, now, this
moment, today. I will leave you now with five prescriptions, collectively
called S.M.I.L.E., which are designed to encourage you to make today
a little more enjoyable than you initially thought it was going to be.
- S is for smile - donate
a smile to a worthwhile cause today!
Make an effort to be more friendly today, just for the fun of it. Keep
smiling - it triggers curiosity!
- M is for making mayonnaise,
or any other dressing that turns something dull into something delightful!
In other words, don't wait for happiness to happen, make it happen.
Take an ordinary moment and make it extraordinary. Some pursue happiness
- others create it!
- I is for impulse, innovation
and the irregular. A brand new day is an opportunity to try a brand
new way. Change a perception, alter a belief, entertain a new thought,
communicate differently, act adventurously. "Each day the world is born
anew / For him who takes it lightly," wrote James Russell Lowell.
- L is for the greatest
dose of medicine of all: love. Let someone
know that you love them today.
- E is for enjoyment.
When was the last time you went out to play? Indulge yourself, invest
in yourself - give yourself something to smile about.
And remember the old adage, "He [or she] who laughs, lasts!"
Copyright 2006 Robert Holden
the author Dr Robert Holden
Oxford, OX2 9LP
T 018 65 244 414