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Humor Therapy: Laugh Your Way to Better Health!

"Laughter is inner jogging."

Norman Cousins (1912 - 1990)
Author, Anatomy of an Illness

Laughter, the physiological response to humor, is one of the first sounds we make at about 9 months old. As adults, we laugh an estimated 17 times per day. But humor is more than funny; studies have shown humor also may offer therapeutic benefits.

According to the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH), therapeutic humor is "any intervention that promotes health and wellness by stimulating a playful discovery, expression or appreciation of the absurdity or incongruity of life`s situations."

Further, says the AATH, humor therapy "may enhance work performance, support learning, improve health or be used as a complementary treatment of illness to facilitate healing or coping, whether physical, emotional, cognitive, social, or spiritual."

While humor therapy is centuries old, the concept of humor therapy was introduced to the 20th century by Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review and author of Anatomy of an Illness. In his book, Cousins shares how humor led to his recovery from an unknown illness that caused him to feel feverish, weak and fatigued. When medical care available at the time failed him, he chose to indulge in the positive medicine of humor by reading funny literature and watching funny shows. His successful findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Humor therapy may occur in an inpatient or outpatient setting, or anywhere you happen to be. Therapeutic uses of humor in formal care settings may include the use of clowns and "Laugh Mobiles" or "Comedy Carts," which may contain funny books and videos. Dr. Patch Adams, whom actor Robin Williams portrayed in the movie "Patch Adams," popularized humor therapy in the hospital setting.

Dr. Allen C. Bowling, author of Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis, writes that a study on humor and MS patients found humor to be "one of the most common strategies used to cope with the disease." But healthy laughter, he adds, should not be confused with "pathological laughter" - uncontrollable laughter that may occur whether something is humorous or not. This condition sometimes happens in MS patients due to neurological damage; however, medication is available to treat symptoms.

Humor therapy, according to the AATH, may help both MS patients and their loved ones better cope with the many changes that often accompany illness. Humor also may do the following:


  • Relieve stress
  • Decrease pain
  • Alleviate depression
  • Offer hope
  • Increase blood pressure and heart rate
  • Foster relaxation
  • Alter immune system activity

To add more laughter to your life, the AATH suggests the following:

  • "Figure out what makes you laugh and do it (or read it or watch it) more
    often.
  • Surround yourself with funny people - be with them every chance you get.
  • Develop your own sense of humor."

For more information about humor therapy, contact the AATH.

November 2, 2003 in complementary and alternative medicine , organizations, stress, symptom management | Permalink

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