It’s been observed that children laugh about 300 times a day, whereas adults laugh, on average, only about five times each day. The more we laugh, the better our perspective. Problems also seem to shrink, bringing an increased sense of energy. Over the centuries it has been claimed that laughter is one of life’s greatest medicines; as the Bible says, ‘a merry heart doeth good like a medicine’ (Proverbs 17:22).
Laughter is sometimes described as ‘inner jogging’. Research has shown that it can help to: • Lower blood pressure. • Reduce stress hormones. • Boost immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting cells. • Trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. • Produce a general sense of wellbeing.
Modern humor therapy dates from the 1930s, when clowns were brought into American hospitals to cheer up children hospitalized with polio. More recently, the role of laughter as an aid to healing has been well documented in Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, by the American journalist, author and professor Norman Cousins, who created his own laughter-based, self-healing regime after being diagnosed with a degenerative disease. He suffered adverse reactions to most of the drugs he was given and decided, with the cooperation of his doctor, to take matters into his own hands. Cousins discontinued his medication and, as well as taking megadoses of vitamin C, spent his days watching Marx Brothers films and episodes of the TV comedy show Candid Camera, as well as reading humorous books. He claimed that 10 minutes of laughing gave him 2 hours of drug-free pain relief. In time he experienced a gradual withdrawal of symptoms and eventually regained most of his lost freedom of movement.
In India, Laughing Clubs, in which participants gather in the early morning for the sole purpose of laughing, are becoming increasingly popular, while in the UK, the psychologist and psychotherapist Robert Holden launched the country’s first laughter clinics in 1991 with funding from the NHS. Demand was so great that he set up the Happiness Project in 1995. Information can be found in the Resources section on page 242.