The notion that laughter is the best medicine has probably existed for years, but the first real proof surfaced in the 1970s when Norman Cousins, a writer and magazine editor of the popular Saturday Review, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. He believed that if stress could worsen his health, which was known at the time, than laughter could improve it. With the approval of his doctor, he tested the theory on himself, by prescribing funny videos, and his disease went into remission. He wrote a paper about his experience, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, as well as a best selling book, Anatomy of an Illness: A Patient’s Perspective, and opened our eyes to the connection between laughter and wellness.
Since that time dozens of formal studies have been published, and the findings are amazing:
Laughter boosts hormones, including beta-endorphins, which elevate mood and human growth hormone, which helps boost immunity. In one study, just anticipating watching a funny video sent the hormones surging by 27% and 87% respectively.
A good belly laugh can also lower harmful stress hormones, including cortisol, which triggers an increase in belly fat, and adrenaline, which can weaken the immune system when it remains elevated.
Laughter has also been shown to lower “bad” (lousy LDL) cholesterol, raise “good” (happy HDL), decrease blood pressure, and cause your body to respond in a way that’s similar to moderately intense exercise. Isn’t the human body amazing?!
One of the reasons I went back to school to get a second master’s degree in public health was because I knew that nutrition alone can’t completely determine wellness. I often ask my clients about their sleep patterns, social support, and even, “When’s the last time you laughed really hard?” or “How many times a day do you laugh?”
Children laugh 300-400 times a day, even when they’re not provoked to laugh. Adults laugh about 15 times a day, but “filter” their responses, which kids don’t do.
I suggest taking Mr. Cousins’ lead, and prescribing yourself some comedy. In other words, a 5-10 minute YouTube detour isn’t a waste of time – it’s kind of like fitting in a workout! Below is my favorite funny video - no matter how many times I watch, it always makes me laugh out loud :)