When New Orleanians ask about dealing with stress, I often recommend laughter. It’s such a stress reliever that I’ve come close to tweaking scripture from where it reads, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” to “A merry heart IS medicine.” I’ve mentioned in this website before that I frequently am invited to address groups on laughter. One of the exercises we perform is to make ourselves laugh for two minutes at a time.
Right. Make yourself laugh. You can do this. It’s not nearly as hard as it sounds. It feels fake at first–after all, you’re forcing it–but the effect is past in a moment. You start feeling so silly that the very act of laughing makes you laugh. At the end of two minutes, you’re glowing. It’s like you have had a tonic.
Now comes reports of others, professionals, doing the same thing. An article in the Sunday, October 8, Times-Picayune, a reprint from The Washington Post, tells of laughter therapy classes in the George Washington University Center for Integrative Medicine.
According to reporter Anita Huslin, research from the University of Maryland shows that laughter opens your arteries. A scientist at Loma Linda University says it boosts the immune system, relieves stress, and teaches you how to breathe like a baby.
The leader of the GWU class, Siddharth Shah, a physician and psychotherapist, has worked with disaster relief workers who respond to hurricanes, earthquakes, and terrorist acts. He knows the healing power of laughter and teaches his students that they should dose themselves every day on this miracle drug. He admits to laughing in the shower every morning as he begins his day. And in the classroom, he teaches participants various techniques to infuse their daily lives with laughter.
Walk around with a cell phone to your ear, he suggests. It’s not on, but you’re the only one who knows that. Now, laugh out loud. Giggle, like you’re talking to someone. Not one soul in a crowded room thinks you’re weird, certainly not the way they would if you were not holding the phone.
Dr. Shah teaches the lion laugh, where participants lift their arms like paws and roar. The lawnmower laugh has a couple of crank-up laughs followed by deep belly-laughs.
In my sessions, we try all kinds of different laughs, from the high-pitched “hee-hee-hee” to the deep-throated “ho-ho-ho.” People start having so much fun laughing and hearing each other laugh that after a few minutes no one is forcing it any more. The laughter just flows.
Remember how good you feel when you leave a friend’s house after spending a couple of enjoyable hours, laughing and chatting? That’s the plan. But the simple fact is you can achieve much of the same effect all by yourself.
Professor Robert Provine of the University of Maryland says 80 to 90 percent of the time we laugh nothing funny is being said. We laugh to be agreeable, because we’re nervous, or trying to attract the opposite sex.
Reporter Huslin says people in 40 countries belong to laughing clubs. The founder of a club in India, Madan Kataria, began his organization by telling jokes, but soon quit when he began to run out of them. Then he discovered he doesn’t even need the jokes. It’s possible for people to make themselves laugh, and the therapeutic effects are the same.
Huslin appreciates a story I’ve often told, of Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, who was stricken with a degenerative connective tissue disease in his spine in 1964. Whether on a hunch or what, I do not know, but he decided to experiment with the healing power of laughter. He hired a nurse to read him humorous stories and he watched Marx Brothers films. Belly laughter is best of all, he found. In time, he found that 15 minutes of deep, hearty laughter could result in two hours of sound sleep. His 1979 book, “Anatomy of an Illness,” in which he told of his experiences, became a best-seller. In it, he attributes his healing to the power of laughter.
Huslin reports that ten years after Cousins’ book, the Journal of American Medical Association concluded that for chronically ill patients, “laughter has an immediate symptom-relieving effect…an effect that is potentiated when laughter is induced regularly.”
Some in the GWU class admit that they’re actually thinking funny thoughts to provoke the laughter in the room. June Jackson imagines her grandmother straining to stuff her torso into a corset. Samit Shah remembers a funny scene from “The Lion King.” Lorraine Wodiska looks at the others in the room, waving their arms and cackling, and breaks up with laughter. Catherine Bernard thinks of a favorite “Seinfeld” episode.
Recently, I wrote a friend who was battling cancer. I knew he was in the middle of those awful chemotherapy sessions and needed a pick-me-up. “I recommend laughter,” I told him, and suggested a simple way to find some.
When my monthly Reader’s Digest arrives, I go through it quickly and read all the jokes and funny stories with a pen in hand. The items I especially enjoy, I draw a big circle around. Later, I’ll read some of the longer articles, but at the moment I’m just mining for the humor. When I finish with the magazine, it goes on the shelf in my study beside three or four years of copies. They’re so small, I can put two rows on the same shelf.
Now, when I feel the need for laughter, I pull out an old issue. The date doesn’t matter, but most of us are constructed so that we forget a joke a few weeks after hearing it, so in a sense all of these old ones are fresh. I go through it quickly and read only the items I’ve circled. In 10 or 15 minutes, I’ve finished that issue and have enjoyed some good laughter. My mood has changed. My spirits are brighter. My body feels invigorated.
I offered to lend my friend a stack of old Reader’s Digest. The public library in every town in America has them, also. (Although they don’t circle the best jokes, and probably would not appreciate your doing so either!)
One of my favorite Bible verses comes from the mouth of Mrs. Sarah Abraham, after she gave birth to her first and only son, Isaac. She said, “God has made laughter for me.” (Genesis 21:6)
He has made laughter for you, too. But I suspect you may not be getting your recommended daily allowance.
Some of us were brought up to be serious. There was a famine of laughter and humor in your home and in fact, it may have been frowned upon as frivolous. Consequently, you need a little prodding in that direction and require some convincing to get you started.
That’s why I wrote this little note. God likes you to laugh. In fact, laughter is often a vote of confidence in the Lord. It shows you have chosen not to fear, not to be anxious, and not to worry. You have decided to rejoice in the Lord.
God has made laughter for you. Go get yours. It’s good for you.
I recommend laughter.