Did you know that gelotology–from the Greek gelos, meaning laughter–is the study of laughter and its effects on the mind and body?
Some statistics show that small children are believed to laugh 10 times the amount in a day that a typical adult does, the latter number said to be around 17 times. Physiologically, the ability to find humor even in dire circumstances is known to help fight disease and extend lifetimes by releasing endorphins–the body’s “feel good” chemicals–into the system. Endorphins can help lower blood pressure and reduce stress and tension and the negative effects they have on organs, among other things.
In fact laughter being the best medicine may not be a cliché, as it has been documented therapeutically to cure serious ailments, not to mention simply lightening up our days. In the 1970s, believing human emotions were the key to fighting illness, author, world peace advocate, and professor Norman Cousins successfully battled heart disease and a life-threatening form of arthritis with a mega-dose diet of Vitamin C and Marx Brothers Films. Discovering that 10 minutes of deep belly laughter would produce a two-hour analgesic effect and allow him some pain-free sleep, Cousins reportedly cranked up the projector again and again, with the same mitigating two-hour effect on his debilitating pain (and attitude). His findings became the basis for the bestselling book and film, “Anatomy of An Illness.”
A decorated humor lecturer and motivational speaker, Bernard Herman, a Massachusetts attorney and part time assistant district attorney, deviated from the weightiness of the law one summer, opting for a session of clown school in upstate New York. When birthday parties and mall events weren’t enough, Herman parlayed his newly-acquired craft into many hundreds of visits over the years to children’s hospitals, hospital cardiac and intensive care units, elementary schools, senior citizen’s facilities, shelters and more. “No child or adult was safe from me and my brand of humor,” he once quipped, noting, as Norman Cousins had, the impact of humor on physical and emotional healing. Later on, shedding the polka dot suit and red size 20 clown shoes, he developed a lecture series which he delivered to medical teams at major hospitals about the importance of laughter–the physiological response to humor–in successful patient recovery.
The More the Merrier
In other applications of laughter, research shows people often do it, voluntarily or involuntarily (so-called nervous laughter), as a gesture of relief at eluding a threat or at the passing of danger. Shared humor, such as joke telling, which produces laughter, serves to connect people through a common denominator, signaling acceptance. And as human beings by nature are not solitary creatures, identifying with others in this way also serves to lower the stress we may feel in unfamiliar situations. In a related concept, have you ever noticed that the so-called “life of the party,” or the one clever enough to regale others with his or her sense of humor, seems to have all the control? Humor can make us powerful and popular that way too, as we all want to feel good and are quick to acknowledge someone who knows how to make us do that!
Though April 1, April Fool’s Day, is not recognized as a national holiday, it is regarded as a day to play practical jokes on one another–or on the masses–all for laughs. Among the most memorable hoaxes are a full page advertisement in USA Today about the introduction of Burger King’s “left-handed Whopper,” and a California disc jockey announcing that the gargantuan, multi-city Los Angeles freeway system was closing for repairs. Or how about the European headlines that the Eiffel Tower was going to be dismantled and relocated to the Euro Disney theme park?!
Some say whatever makes us laugh is good for the soul … and apparently the brain, the heart, lungs, liver, and just about everything else. As April is Humor Month, why not take some extra time each day to master your mirth and find a way to laugh–and make sure someone else does too!