Health is a Laughing Matter


“Laughter is the best medicine”, they say, and there is sufficient evidence to suggest that this is true.

A case in point is a man named Norman Cousins. In 1964 he was struck by a serious illness that threatened his life. He contracted a disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis that affected the connective tissue in his cells. This was very debilitating and caused severe pain and lack of mobility. The specialists told him that he had a 1 in 500 chance of overcoming it, and he began receiving treatment in the form of powerful pain killers and anti inflammatory’s. Mindful of the negative side effects that these strong drugs could cause and armed with a sincere belief that his own body was equipped with all the necessary tools to cure the disease, he decided to take a different approach.

With the support of his family doctor and friend, Dr William Hitzig, he checked himself out of hospital – because he felt that the environment was adding to his stress and adversely affecting his healing process. He booked into a hotel where he could be near his loved ones in more pleasant surroundings and control his own routine. He took charge of the situation and responsibility for his own well being.  Believing that positive emotions would have a healing effect on his body, he undertook a very disciplined daily program. His strategy was simple, but extremely courageous, because it was flying in the face of convention, and it could have cost him his life. As part of his routine he hired comedies, including Marx Brothers films. He watched these and engaged in a process of systematic conscious laughter. His actions were rewarded and he began to experience relief from the pain directly after the laughter. This allowed him to sleep deeply and rest naturally without the use of prescription drugs. When the effects wore off, he would engage in more laughter, and the relief returned. Furthermore, medical blood tests confirmed that his condition was improving.

I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep” – Norman Cousins


Day after day the severe pain receded after bouts of laughter, and the effects lasted longer each time. He followed the routine diligently for many months, and, as a result, Norman Cousins was able to heal himself, beating the enormous odds that the specialists had predicted. Interestingly, he did this without the use of any prescription drugs. His tools were: the will to live; a healthy diet and large doses of vitamin C; a strong belief in his body’s innate ability to heal itself (something that Hippocrates, the father of medicine, advocated), plenty of natural rest; and, the magic ingredient – laughter !

Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand – Mark Twain


Now, I’m not suggesting that conventional medicine should be ignored, nor that all diseases can be cured simply by laughter – that would be naïve. I am also not questioning the legitimate role of conventional medicine in overcoming disease – that would be irresponsible and foolish. I am however suggesting that the state of mind and emotion of the patient has a significant role to play in healing. I am also suggesting that laughter is a powerful tool that can have a profound effect on our health.

These days scientific studies explain why laughter is effective as a form of healing. Laughter can stimulate the Pituitary gland to secrete endorphins into the bloodstream. These chemicals are natural pain killers and immuno modulators. During Cousins’ time these studies were not readily available, but he intuitively reasoned that laughter was an important key in his recovery, and he was right!

This story is not unique. Many people have benefited from this form of therapy. There are traditions – particularly in the east, in China and India – that prescribe laughter as a form of natural healing. There are groups – including high powered executives – that congregate in city parks at lunchtime in order to conduct exercises in therapeutic laughter.

Laughter gives our internal organs a massage. It reduces anxiety. It helps to release physical, mental and emotional stress. This not only makes you look and feel better but it also secretes those powerful immune boosting hormones, pain killers and anti-depressants that I mentioned earlier. These have a significant influence on how we feel about ourselves and about life. They also allow the body to defend itself more effectively against disease. Our body contains a magnificent pharmacy that is geared towards perfect health. All we need to do is activate it, and laughter just happens to be one of the keys.

Laughter is part of Sound Therapy. In my work I facilitate “Laughter Workshops” in which groups of people are taught techniques that help generate conscious therapeutic laughter. At first, the group has to fake it and the laughter is artificial, but after a while, genuine laughter creeps in and spreads like wild fire! After a 15 to 20 minute laughter release the group is led into deep silence. The type of silence that allows one to enter a profound state of rest and relaxation. This enables body, mind and emotions to balance, rejuvenate and even heal.

The problem with modern society is that life has become too serious and we don’t laugh enough. As children we laughed often. As adults we have lost the ability for genuine laughter. We have a notion that laughter is something that comes from the outside. We wait for ‘something’ to laugh at, and sometimes that ‘something’ doesn’t arrive.

True laughter comes from the inside out. It manifests in our belly, our chest and throughout our entire body. We can learn to generate laughter at will and use it as a tool for health and well being. It’s free of charge. It doesn’t require authorisation from the medical aid. It doesn’t need batteries or electricity. It’s portable, so we can take it with us wherever we go. We need to remind ourselves of this and generate laughter more often.

Right now, in this very moment, it’s a great opportunity for us to engage in some heartfelt conscious laughter and share it with friends and loved ones. If this seems silly to you, then think about a time when you had a good belly laugh. How did it make you feel afterwards ? How did it shift your mood and your physiology ? We really need to get away from the idea that we need something to laugh at and simply become the source of our own laughter. That, in turn, will give others that are less inclined to allow their spontaneous laughter to come out to laugh at us. In this way, we shift ourselves, plus we have a positive effect on those around us. 

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