HEALTHY HUMOUR AND THE BENEFICIAL EFFECTS OF LAUGHTER
A famous joke
A famous writer one day receives an untimely letter. The writer paid the fee and opened the letter: "Old man! I'm fine. I live in Chicago. Your schoolmate, Jackson." Two weeks later Jackson received a heavy parcel in Chicago, for which he paid a fee of 50$. Inside he found a large stone, accompanied by the following note: "Dear Colleague! This stone sat on my heart until I found out you were okay."
The hero of our little story is Mark Twain, one of the most beloved writers and humorists, the one who intuited the therapeutic value of humor and its healing power over the disturbing tendencies of human society. The therapeutic value of humour has not gone unnoticed even by people today who, more than ever, are eager to open their souls and minds to the knowledge of all the inner levers that can trigger qualitative leaps.
The effects of healthy humour
Healthy humour is for many a way to bring out unsuspected beneficial powers: the power to work long hours, to be enthusiastic and devoted, the power to move with ease through stressful situations, the power to find the best response to life's events, and for some the power to successfully overcome more or less serious illnesses.
The most famous and well-documented case is that of Norman Cousins, who cured himself of a serious collagen disease that a number of experts failed to cure. What could Norman have done when he realised that drugs were ineffective in his case? Give in to despair or get up and move on? He chose to laugh. Full of perseverance and eager for success, he administered a large dose of laughter in daily series.
Healing through humour therapy
The humorous cartoons were the vehicle for the laughing wave, which got to the right place in Norman's mind and body, bringing him back to health. Doctors' verdict: cured. What a few months ago had been almost a final sentence had meanwhile become the engine that revolutionised much medical thinking.
"How is that possible?" the doctors asked. Some dropped their glasses on their noses and smiled (ironically). Others got serious.
What they found was a reason not to laugh, but to rejoice: laughter lowers blood pressure in those with elevated values, reduces the release of stress hormones, relaxes muscles, increases muscle elasticity, increases the number of T-lymphocytes, B-lymphocytes and γ-interferon, factors involved in immunity, increases the release of endorphins, improves breathing and blood oxygenation.
Of course, the studies were done on those people capable of laughing healthily, laughing heartily.
Could this have been the reason why in some cities in India laughter clubs have been created, places where people get up in the morning to laugh? Or perhaps it was the contaminating power of humour? The echo of good cheer reached the Journal of the American Medical Association, which published an article in which the therapeutic effects of laughter were extensively analysed.
The article states, "a laughter therapy program can increase the quality of life for patients with chronic conditions, and because laughter has an immediate response for these patients, its effect is enhanced when laughter is induced regularly over a period of time."
Hearing this, practical-minded Americans have called in volunteers, so-called hospital clowns, to hospitals to ease the suffering of the sick.
However, hysterical sardonic laughter, black humour, or cynical, mocking, sadistic or masochistic laughter do not fall into the category of therapeutic humour, and the effects of these manifestations, albeit unconsciously for many, are devastating.
Results and conclusions
Doctors Lee Berk and Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University "teamed up" with a group of well-meaning people and tasked them with a healthy and lively laugh. During this time they painstakingly analysed blood samples taken before and after bouts of hearty laughter.
Results: laughter decreases serum cortisol levels, increases the amount of activated T lymphocytes, increases the number and activity of natural killer lymphocytes, increases the number of T helper and T suppressor lymphocytes.
Bottom line: laughter boosts the immune system and removes the immunosuppressive effect of stress.