The Healing Power of Humor


Years ago, I read Norman Cousins’ book, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins tells the story of how he healed himself of cancer through laughter. The publisher describes it this way, “Anatomy of an Illness was the first book by a patient that spoke to our current interest in taking charge of our own health. It started the revolution in patients working with their doctors and using humor to boost their bodies’ capacity for healing. The patient’s talent was in mobilizing his body’s own natural resources, proving what an effective healing tool the mind can be.”

Art of Healing

I well remember some fourteen years ago, following triple bypass surgery, just how down and depressed I was. I had promised my youngest son that the surgery was no big deal, and I would be home for the weekend. So, I had the surgery on Wednesday afternoon and went home on Saturday, against doctor recommendations. I was not only depressed but angry, and not just at the pain. Fortunately, my training kicked in and I remembered just how important attitude is to wellness. I found the old Three’s Company series on TV and immersed myself in the reruns. Sometimes I laughed harder than I should have, but in a short time I was well on my way to a quick mend that surprised my doctors. Indeed, when they gave me my first nuclear stress test, they were totally surprised at how long it took, and how fast they had to get the treadmill going, before they were able to get the heart rate where they wanted it. “Strong as an ox,” were the words of one of the technicians.

Hard-Wired Neurochemicals

I often post humorous this and that on my social networking pages, especially when the world news seems dark and dreary, such as with the initial months of the covid pandemic or now with runaway inflation and the war in Ukraine. We should all remember that in many ways we are hard wired and thus have the ability to somewhat manipulate and control the neurochemicals our brain produces, and therefore, mood states to a more or less degree. From a neuroscience standpoint:

Laughing swaps the cortisol in our bloodstream with highly sought after chemicals in the brain: dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. Dopamine can enhance learning, motivation, and attention. Oxytocin is considered the “empathy hormone” and the “bonding chemical,” and when it enters the bloodstream it creates feelings of relatedness. Endorphins trigger feelings of pleasure; people can endure 15% more pain simply by laughing for a few minutes beforehand. Other health benefits: improved immune functioning, stress relief, improved cardiovascular health, reduced anxiety, sense of safety, and improved mood. Laughter also works as a reappraisal technique, reducing the limbic response associated with “fight-or-flight” reactions. In other words, when feeling stressed the physiological act of laughter can decrease heart rate and blood pressure and relax muscle tension. Just a moment of laughter allows us to think more clearly and creatively and raises relatedness with our colleagues.1

Natural Remedies

Many years ago, after first encountering the work of Cousins, I created a special humor InnerTalk program. I have often combined this program with our Freedom from Stress program in the past and the results have always impressed me. In tough times, we should all turn to humor and find ways to laugh. Unfortunately for many, it’s all too easy to trade in our natural remedies for drugs.

My advice, make humor a part and parcel of your everyday workout. Just as you work to stay physically fit, choose to be mentally fit as well.

Thanks for the read and I wish you all the very best,

Eldon

Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor, PhD
Provocative Enlightenment Radio
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusion

Sources:

Berezin, G. & Liss, M. 2020. “The Neuroscience of Laughter, and How to Inspire More of It at Work.” Neuroleadership. Sept. 17, 2020.