Laughter Therapy

by Amyobala Key

An Anatomy of an Illness       

Laughter Therapy has the potential to cure the incurable. Like all other theoretical approaches, it is not a guarantee, but provides hope. Unlike other desperate measures, it leaves the patient feeling good, regardless of the consequences.

The benefits of laughter were significantly propelled forward by the Norman Cousins memoir, "Anatomy of an Illness." Diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a debilitating spinal condition, Cousins discovered that sessions of laughter could give him hours of pain-free sleep. Assisted by massive doses of Vitamin C, the disabled man turned his life around and overcame the negative prospects for a normal life. In 1984, veteran actors Ed Asner and Eli Wallach teamed with Millie Perkins (Diary of Anne Frank) and David Ogden Stiers, to perform in a television movie based on the book: "An Anatomy of an Illness." Directed by Richard T. Heffron, the story was released on DVD in 2002. The effort is far too important to be forgotten, not merely for its inspirational nature, but because of its protagonist's never-say-die attitude. (This movie will not appear very often on television, but you can still purchase a copy inexpensively through online auction houses and bookstores.)

Does laughing really work? Doctors will say that patients will be better off, but doctors are not certain if it is the cure that everyone thinks. Serious research has yet to be done on the subject, but it has potential. What happens to the person who follows a path of laughter? He stretches his muscles, raises his pulse and blood pressure, promotes his breathing, and increases oxygen to his cells. But the same can be true of a bout with fear. One researcher, William Fry, proclaimed that one minute of hearty laughter was equal to ten minutes on a rowing machine. But why do traditional scientists continue to believe that it is nothing more than a physical workout? Studies of groups of people, one set watching a comedy and another set watching a drama, have found that the latter group will tense and restrict blood flow. The former, those watching comedy, have positive health effects, with blood vessels expanding and contracting easily.

There is the possibility that, with laughter, positive chemical activities will increase, allowing for a rise in antibodies and an increase in the level of immunity.

As usual, traditional doctors are neither impressed nor inspired. But studies of the subject are few, small, and usually engineered improperly. Those who initiate studies are usually biased in favor of the theory. It is the worst way to scientifically approach any topic. Without intelligent research, laughter may appear to be no better than any other extreme emotional reaction. You could get similar positive results, simply from screaming. Initial observations suggest that laughter can assist the body in raising the threshold of tolerance for pain. But what can it do for conquering the illness itself? Simply emulating morphine is insufficient.

If you have an illness that traditional doctors and holistic practitioners have failed to defeat, then give it a try. But mix your personal treatment with other parallel therapies. You can rent or purchase an infinite number of comedies in DVD or VHS format. At the same time, you may want to add other elements that promote healing. Surround yourself with everything that brings you up. Make your list. The list should include pets, children, and flowers. Just be careful that they are the things that make you personally feel good. W.C. Fields may not have chosen children. Those with allergies may not choose pets or flowers. Also, many comedians may not always be to your taste. If you are sick and feeling low, you are more likely to be open-minded to other comedy styles. You can now get DVDs for a vast array of recent television series and also older comedies.

The trick is to immerse yourself within laughter.

The human body appears to be engineered to benefit from the experience in ways that we cannot yet fully comprehend.

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