Norman Cousins: The Man Who Laughed In The Face of Death
What Does Laughing for Do Your Body? Norman Cousins Knew.
Have you ever been in a bad mood? Have you ever been in a bad mood when someone got you to laugh? Have you ever been in a bad mood when someone got you to laugh and you stayed in a bad mood? No? Well join the world!
Ok, so we know that laughing can change your mood. But what does it do for your body?
Technically speaking laughter is a release of tension, much like sneezing or orgasm. Comics know this well. Watch a good one, no matter what the style you will see that he or she will build up tension and then give some form of punchline to release that tension.
Laughter Activates the Immune System
"In Berk's study, the physiological response produced by belly laughter was opposite of what is seen in classical stress, supporting the conclusion that mirthful laughter is a eustress state -- a state that produces healthy or positive emotions.
Research results indicate that, after exposure to humor, there is a general increase in activity within the immune system, including:
* An increase in the number and activity level of natural killer cells that attack viral infected cells and some types of cancer and tumor cells.
* An increase in activated T cells (T lymphocytes). There are many T cells that await activation. Laughter appears to tell the immune system to "turn it up a notch."
bullet An increase in the antibody IgA (immunoglobulin A), which fights upper respiratory tract insults and infections.
bullet An increase in gamma interferon, which tells various components of the immune system to "turn on."
* An increase in IgB, the immunoglobulin produced in the greatest quantity in body, as well as an increase in Complement 3, which helps antibodies to pierce dysfunctional or infected cells. The increase in both substances was not only present while subjects watched a humor video; there also was a lingering effect that continued to show increased levels the next day."
Norman Cousins Laughed His Way Back to Health and Life
Norman Cousins was given a few months to live in 1964. He had Ankylosing Spondylitis, a rare disease of the connective tissues. He was told my a doctor who was his friend that he had a 1 in 500 chance of survival. He was told to 'get his affairs in order'.
But Cousins would have none of it. A journalist, he was used to research and set himself to find a solution. He read and discovered that both his disease and the medicines were depleting his body of vitamin 'C', among other things.
He did three things that would be usual today and were unheard of then.
1. He fired his doctor and left the hospital to check into a hotel. He ascertained that the cultural of defeat and over medication in the hospital was not going to be good for his health. He found a doctor who would work with him as a team member as opposed to insisting on being in charge.
2. He began to get injections of massive doses of vitamin 'C'.
3. He obtained a movie projector, no small feat in those days, and a pile of funny movies inclusing the Marx Brothers and 'Candid Camera' shows. He spent a great deal of time watching these films and laughing. And he didn't just laugh. In spite of being in a lot of constant pain, he made a point of laughing until his very stomach hurt from it.
Did it work? Who knows. You should know that Cousins finally died November 30, 1990 in Los Angeles, California, having survived years longer than his doctors predicted: 10 years after his first heart attack, 16 years after his collagen illness, and 26 years after his doctors first diagnosed his heart disease.
Can it be proved that laughing added 26 years to Norman Cousins' life? Not really, but we see above that it strengthens the immune system that fights disease. There can be no double blind tests for this. They can't take two groups of dying people and have one laugh and the other cry and see who lived. The ethical restraints would be enormous and there would be too many variables. We will just have to take his word. Perhaps a version of Pascal's Wager. If laughing doesn't extend life, wouldn't it be better to laugh anyway to make your last more pleasant?
The Best Laughing Aids
Even More Physical Benefits of Laughter
The results of the study also supported research indicating a general decrease in stress hormones that constrict blood vessels and suppress immune activity. These were shown to decrease in the study group exposed to humor.
For example, levels of epinephrine were lower in the group both in anticipation of humor and after exposure to humor. Epinephrine levels remained down throughout the experiment.
In addition, dopamine levels (as measured by dopac) were also decreased. Dopamine is involved in the "fight or flight response" and is associated with elevated blood pressure.
Laughing is aerobic, providing a workout for the diaphragm and increasing the body's ability to use oxygen.
Laughter brings in positive emotions that can enhance - not replace -- conventional treatments. Hence it is another tool available to help fight the disease.
Experts believe that, when used as an adjunct to conventional care, laughter can reduce pain and aid the healing process. For one thing, laughter offers a powerful distraction from pain.
In a study published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, patients were told one-liners after surgery and before painful medication was administered. Those exposed to humor perceived less pain when compared to patients who didn't get a dose of humor as part of their therapy.
Perhaps, the biggest benefit of laughter is that it is free and has no known negative side effects.
So, here is a summary of how humor contributes to physical health. More details can be found in the article, Humor and Health contributed by Paul McGhee