Humor, Laughter and Pain – The Latest Research

This article marks the first in a series of E-zine articles that will examine the general topic of humor and health. In this series of articles, we will discuss specific ways in which humor contributes to both physical and mental/emotional health and well-being. There have been endless articles in the mass media about whether humor really is good medicine or not (everyone has long heard the statement “Laughter is the best medicine”). Twenty years ago, many of these articles made claims about humor’s impact on health that had no foundation in research. At conferences in recent years, I have even heard physicians make statements about humor and health that have no foundation in research. They made these statements because they had been stated so often in the media that they were assumed to be true. So this series of articles will inform you of just what the research says about what humor and a good belly laugh can do for your health.For the past 25 years there has been a steadily growing popular movement that I call the “humor and health movement.” The impetus for this movement came from the widespread influence of Norman Cousins’ 1979 book, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins was suffering from a debilitating form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis. He was in constant pain as a result of this condition. He and his doctors were aware of the research documenting the fact that negative emotion can increase pain, so they thought, “Why shouldn’t the opposite be true, as well?” If you do things to generate positive emotion in yourself, maybe this will reduce the pain. So he checked himself out of the hospital and into a nearby hotel. With a nurse present full time to monitor his condition, he invited friends over and watched a lot of comedy videos; these included Marx Brothers films, old Candid Camera shows, and other shows that he personally found very funny.He and his friends laughed a lot while watching these shows, and Cousins noticed right away that he began experiencing less pain during and after viewing them. Someone monitored the time actually spent laughing, and Cousins reported that just 10 minutes of belly laughter would give him two hours of pain-free sleep. This may not sound impressive to you, but if you’re in constant pain, the effect is a striking one.As the reports of this pain-reducing effect of humor and laughter became more and more widely known (because of the popularity of his book), researchers in the early 1980s began testing this idea in laboratory settings. Over 30 studies have now obtained support for Cousins’ initial observation that humor and laughter reduce pain. Supporting evidence has been obtained in both experimental settings (where pain is actually induced initially, followed by a determination of humor’s ability to reduce that pain) and among individuals suffering from chronic pain from a broad range of conditions. So this is one claim about humor and health you can consider well established.There is no agreement among researchers, however, on the reason for humor’s pain-reducing effect. Most newspaper articles discussing this topic over the past two decades have matter-of-factly attributed the pain reduction to endorphins-one of the body’s own built-in pain killers. The only problem is that there was never any research documenting this. It was an assumption made by Cousins’ doctors in the 1970s, and people simply kept repeating it as if it were a fact. It should be noted that in the past couple of years there has been one article showing increased endorphin production in response to humor/laughter, so there is some support for this. But there are also a couple of studies that failed to show that humor increases endorphin levels. So the jury is still out on this-even though there is no doubt about the pain-reduction effect.It should also be noted that we don’t know yet whether this pain-reduction is really due to the mental/emotional experience of humor or to the physical act of laughter. They occur together, obviously, and it is difficult to sort out which is really responsible for the reduced pain. As we shall see in future articles here, this same issue comes up when discussing any other health benefit established for humor.Another good candidate for explaining humor’s pain-reducing power is the muscle relaxation effect that occurs with laughter. (Certain muscles relax when you laugh whether you want them to or not; that’s why we fall back in our chair when we’re laughing hard. It is also why young children fall down and roll on the floor when they’re laughing hard.) This will be discussed in a future article.And, of course, humor is very good at mentally distracting us from the source of both physical and emotional pain. There is every reason to thing that the basic neurological pain-channeling mechanisms are influenced by this distracting power of humor.In the years ahead, we’ll sort out just how humor is able to reduce pain-as well as whether it’s really humor or laughter that is the key. But if you’re someone who suffers from chronic pain, you probably really don’t care why humor does this. The important thing is that it works. Groucho Marx noted this pain-reducing effect of humor long ago. He said, “A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast.”Future articles in this series will consider the impact of humor on the immune system and specific disease conditions.

What’s Humor Got to Do With It?

Don’t take your self so seriously. You’ll not get out of this world alive.
One’s sense of humor involves the capacity to appreciate incongruity, absurdity, an unexpected future, a pleasant surprise, or a startle. Humor helps soften life’s blows. For instance note the humor people express at funerals.
Participants in a seminar recently identified humor as an important coping factor. They believed it played a role in their spirituality and their perception of the meaning of life. Nurses’ use of humor is important to foster trusting relationships with patients.Emmett Fox:
“Cultivate a sense of humor. Look for the funny side of everything. It is always there and will help you to meet any situation. Laugh at yourself at least once before ten o’clock every morning”Seven Benefits of maintaining a sense of humor:
Humor is infectious. When laughter is shared it binds people together. My best friend and I have been friends for more than thirty-five years and the binding force is the joy and humor we share about our lives and living.Benefit One – Stop taking yourself so seriously.Learn to laugh at yourself. Laughing at oneself relieves tension and gets your mind onto other issues. After a good laugh, you are lighter and more receptive to solutions. As you become aware of your own mind, you will be amazed at the humor you find in self reflection. Find the humor in your neuroticness and your weakness. I don’t know about you but my Universal Power has a sense of humor. Evidence points to the fact that our moods, emotions, and beliefs have great impact on our well being and finding humor makes life much easier to live.Benefit Two – Relieves stress.It’s been proven that laughter helps relief the stress of catastrophes. When life seems to fall apart, look at the whole picture and laugh at the situation. A dire situation often brings a chuckle to relieve the overpowering pain; such as when someone passes and people attend the service and reception; you’ll often find them reminiscing about humorous situations related to the loved one. It helps. It’s a healthy antidote to stress, loss, pain and conflict. Laughter shifts your perspective. If you don’t develop a sense of humor about situations, it may be difficult to maintain your sanity. Remember, life is really a game. Learn to have fun.Benefit Three – laughter assists with healing.Studies show that laughter strengthens the immune system, relaxes the body, triggers the release of endorphins, helps you relax and recharge. Build into your life more humor and laughter, you will keep the chemicals that build health at maximum level. There is no longer any doubt that your frame of mind influences you health and enriches you life. Laughter releases inhibitions, diminishes pain and boosts energy. It is priceless medicine.Benefit Four – Laugh with others.Laughing with others is more powerful than laughing by yourself; However, laughing by yourself is better than no laughter. Make it a practice to get a chuckle out of something several times a day and when you’re with friends, have fun with each other. Laughter helps you become more spontaneous. Humor makes you feel good and increases your optimism and self esteem. By improving your moods and attitudes you’ll see the world through rosier glasses.Benefit Five – Helps addicts on the road to recoveryLaughter helps you become less judgmental. It’s hard to be critical of others or yourself when you’re laughing.
I’m a recovering alcoholic and I find humor in some of the things I did. I wouldn’t care to do them again; however it is healthier to laugh at my silliness than to beat myself up. You’d be amazed at the laughter in a twelve step meeting; although everyone there is trying to recover from a deadly addiction. More proof that humor and laughter have healing potential.Benefit Six – Laughter helps relieve you of fears.Most of us have a fear of authority or we have someone in our life that we’ve given the power to threaten us. Someone whose approval we think we need.
There is an exercise I call the Pink Tu Tu tactic. Learn to use it on someone you fear, are angry at, or someone you feel has power over you. Simply visualize that person dancing in a bright neon pink Tu Tu. Guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and completely strip them of any power you thought they had over you.Benefit Seven – Laughter lets us have fun.Humor and laughter help you lighten up. Too often we are so caught up in life that we forget to have fun. We are so concerned with being mature responsible adults we forget to laugh.
Life brings a constant barrage of conflicts, challenges and situations. Humor adds the element of fun to a situation. Learn to find humor in life and life will become more enjoyable. Best of all It’s:
Free
Fun
Easy to useAs you learn to look for humor and playfulness in yourself and others, you’ll find life full of new discoveries. You’ll become aware that those around you have become more pleasant and fun to be with. Make humor and laughter a mainstay in your life; you’ll live on a higher plane. You’ll be more relaxed, youthful, poised and in balance. Try it. You’ll like it.Charles Schultz:
“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask, “Where have I gone wrong?” Then a voice says to me. “This is going to take more than one night.”Copyright © Wee Dilts 2009