use of laughter -- to relieve stress, combat disease and strengthen
the immune system -- no longer raises medical eyebrows. The idea that
humour is healthy and that a hearty laugh can make a person feel much
better has gained much medical respectability in the last two decades.
Humour therapy has been accepted on the basis of numerous researches
conducted in the West. The case of Hunter 'Patch' Adams (immortalised
by actor Robin Williams in the film Patch Adams), who developed
laughter therapy over 35 years at the Gesundheit Institute in
Virginia, USA., is well-known. The other is the story of Norman
Cousins, the late editor of the American paper, The Saturday Review,
who was taken ill with ankylosing spondylitis, a severe connective
tissue disease where the body just wastes away. When doctors gave up
on him, he cured himself with large doses of vitamin C and comedies
starring the Marx Brothers. Cousins found that ten minutes of genuine
belly laughter had an anaesthetic effect and gave him at least two
hours of pain-free sleep. He recorded his experiences in self-healing
through laughter in a best-selling book, Anatomy of an Illness.
This has been an inspiration for many practitioners of laughter
therapy, including Dr Madan Kataria, a Mumbai-based general
practitioner, who has pioneered the concept of laughter clubs in
India. As founder of Laughter Club International, Dr Kataria is
credited with initiating over 300 laughter clubs over India. Each of
these conducts regular group laughter sessions on the premise that
laughter is healthy for the body and mind.
We still know very little about what happens in the brain when we
laugh, but there's a fair amount of evidence to suggest that laughter
has wide-ranging effects on us psychologically and physiologically.
The most obvious effect is on our mood but laughter is also known to
keep away negative emotions like anxiety and depression, which tend to
weaken the immune system. It relieves stress, a common cause of heart
and blood pressure problems. It improves lung capacity and oxygen
levels in the blood and thus alleviates complaints of asthma and
bronchitis. It also releases endorphins, the body's natural pain
killers, thus reducing the frequency and intensity of arthritic pain
muscular spasms. It is also known to help with insomnia, migraines,
allergies, and ulcers.
French neurologist Henri Rubenstein said that even one minute of
laughter can give the body upto 45 minutes of therapeutic relaxation.
It also reduces heart rate and stimulates appetite and digestion.
French doctor Pierre Vachet, who studied the physiology of laughter,
has concluded that laughter expands the blood vessels and sends more
blood racing to the extremities. As it sends more oxygen to every cell
in the body, it also serves to speed tissue healing and stabilise many
body functions. Other experiments have shown how watching funny films
lowers our blood pressure and generates more endorphins in the blood,
producing a feeling of well-being.
However, new insights say that not everyone benefits equally from this
therapy. Researchers say that if people with a strong sense of humour
are less affected by stress, it's not necessarily the laughter that's
helping them cope; it could mean that if they are coping well, they
can laugh a lot. In fact, one study has showed that viewing funny
videos led to a rise in immune chemical levels, but also that they
rose most in people whose tendency to laugh was the greatest to begin
Another study of patients recovering from surgery in a Florida
hospital showed that the group that was allowed to choose the humorous
movies they saw benefited the most from the laughter therapy and
required fewer pain-killers compared with a control group that saw
none at all. However, a third group that was force-fed comedies
without their consent or liking did the worst of all.
But it is clear that the idea that laughter or happiness is the best
medicine is rapidly catching on. The British government is, in fact,
proposing to hire comedians as jesters for the sick and the elderly.
Humour is also accepted in America as a legitimate input for
management education. Apparently, some American companies such as IBM
even have a humour adviser attached to them.
Researchers in the West have also established a close connection
between humour and creativity. Since creativity requires playfulness
-- toying with words, ideas and people - it is interlinked with humour.
Experts say that people who are afraid to play, who feel guilty about
having fun and sharing a laugh rarely come up with creative new ideas.
Even management guru Edward de Bono is known to have observed that
solutions to problems sometimes come through humour. Many doctors are
beginning to agree with him.