Therapeutic Humor

My first exposure to therapeutic humor was with folks who were very active in AA.

Their use of humor to move through the rebuilding days, and to handle the struggles later on that life presents to us, like divorce, death, and illness, was amazing.

I can think back to comments made by people I knew 30 years ago, and laugh all over again, as they teased out the whimsy and the farce from what were often called "those damned learning experiences", so you can imagine my curiosity when I learned about Norman Cousins and his use of humor to heal from a serious illness.

However, there is a some very interesting research into therapeutic humor going on these days, and a celebrated example of he personal use of therapeutic humor to heal.

Therapeutic Humor

Norman Cousins and Therapeutic Humor

From Wikipedia, and the link is below;

"In the 1960s, Norman Cousins, a magazine editor, began to suffer from symptoms like rheumatoid arthritis and from a collagen disorder . He underwent many medical treatments and became tired of feeling sicker and sicker. He moved out of the hospital and across the street to a hotel where his doctor world be nearby and he went off all of his medications. He asked his wife to look into organic foods and nutrition and he himself researched healthcare, taking a great interest in natural cures and laughter as medicine."

"Told that he had little chance of surviving, Cousins developed a recovery program incorporating megadoses of Vitamin C, along with a positive attitude, love, faith, hope, and laughter induced by Marx Brothers films. "I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep," he reported. "When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval."

"Normans Cousins' condition became worse before it became better, until one day he was completely unable to move. However, he began to watch comedy movies - the Three Stooges, the Marx brothers, and many others. Each time he laughed, he was able to loosen up a little and move some extremity like a toe or finger or even his jaw. So, he watched and laughed every day. When he loosened up enough in the major joints, he added exercise to his laughing regimen, along with natural and organic foods and vitamins, especially large doses of vitamin C. Eventually he fully recovered, without medications of any kind. Her lived to age 75 in 1990 and was on the faculty of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he taught holistic healing methods and philosophies, including laughter."
Wikipedia-Norman Cousins 

Laughter as Medicine

The sound of laughter may make you smile and laugh, British researchers report.

"It seems that it's absolutely true that 'laugh and the whole world laughs with you,'" Sophie Scott, PhD, says in a news release. Scott is a professor at University College London's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Scott's team says when people hear the sound of laughter, their brain areas that control smiling and laughing become active.

The researchers played the sounds of laughter through headphones to 20 healthy people with good hearing (average age: 32).

While listening to laughter, participants got brain scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The brain scans showed activity in brain areas that control facial muscles used in smiling and laughing.

In short, the sound of laughter spurred the brain to get ready to laugh and smile.

Participants' brain scans showed similar activity upon hearing tapes of people cheering, but not after hearing cries of fear or disgust.

The findings may explain how the brain mirrors other people's positive emotions.

"We usually encounter positive emotions, such as laughter or cheering, in group situations, whether watching a comedy program with family or a football game with friends," Scott says.

"This response in the brain, automatically priming us to smile or laugh, provides a way of mirroring the behavior of others, something which helps us to interact socially," she says.

"It could play an important role in building strong bonds between individuals in a group," Scott adds.


"Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California have been studying the effects of laughter on the immune system. To date their published studies have shown that laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion, and boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being."

From Holistic Humor

So it appears that humor is therapeutic, and is good for all of us, including our brains, where those endorphins are released.

If you are curious about the connection between therapeutic humor and the brain fitness materials you have been reading about for the last few months, then I suggest you read Brainfit for Life by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D. neuroscientists at the University of Michigan, who write about the pillars of brain fitness, which are physical exercise, nutrition, including omega 3 fatty acid and antioxidants, stress management (think laughter), sleep, and novel learning experience.

That novel learning experience might involve computerized brain fitness like the following programs, which I use and recommend highly.

Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro - Software that makes you smarter

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