“A merry heart does good like medicine,” or at least so the book of Proverbs tells us. There is a good deal of truth to this. When I hit the couch one Friday after work to scroll social media and tried to muster up the motivation to go work out, I found myself laughing uncontrollably at the improbable ubiquitous Bernie Sanders memes. The sight of Bernie bundled with his plaid mittens photoshopped in various famous paintings such as The Silent Scream of Edvard Munch, or in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, or hoisted by the baboon in The Lion King tickled my funny bone no end. The random absurdity somehow met my need for some inexplicably funny oddity. After ten minutes of scrolling and laughter, I got my mojo back and headed out for a workout.
Sometimes I find myself all steamed up and angry about a comment a coworker or acquaintance makes; or, due to an unintentional or maybe even intentional jab made at someone’s expense, I feel my fire rising. This is usually resolved by my calling one of my closest of friends who manages to turn my anger into laughter. I have one friend who is so gifted at this, she has become my go-to person when I am upset. She rarely fails to deliver in making me laugh.
Years ago, I endured a painful condition known in the vernacular as “frozen shoulder.” As a distraction, I joined the choir at church and found that the choir director was so humorous, that I simply forgot my pain, or at least I did so for that one-hour practice session a week. Her comments were so comical, my pain was vanquished for that one hour. How I longed for choir practice each week. Recently, I found myself leading a rousing, if not heinously off key, chorus of “Happy birthday,” early one morning at The Alaska Club East swimming pool for one of the morning regulars. The hilarious sight of me playing choir director at a pool’s edge while donned in a swimming suit kept me in fun-loving frame of mind all day.
Humor, medically speaking, really is good medicine. One famous journalist, Norman Cousins, used humor to help him come to terms with his own disease, as documented in his work Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient. Cousins would watch hours of comic movies just for the reprieve from his malady. One article in Forbes magazine indicated that there were at least six scientific reasons why laughter is good for your health, three of which actually have biochemical bases. Laughter apparently releases endorphins, builds relationships and alleviates stress. Here’s the kicker: laughter can also trigger the release of serotonin-a mood enhancing hormone that ameliorates depression, even if it is short term. As for a person’s heart, some studies indicate that there is an anti-inflammatory effect that protects the heart and blood vessels which can, in turn be damaged by life’s stressors.
In one of the most stressful times in my life when I was a caretaker for a very sick family member, I purchased a DVD collection of several episodes of the TV sitcom “Friends.” I laughed and laughed so hard I had tears running down my face. This light-heartedness enabled me to attend to my family member’s needs with more joy and facilitate both of our moods.
The bio-psycho-social medical model today of human health, needs to incorporate more joy and mirth. It is not just a powerful healer, but a powerful natural motivator symbiotically connected to relationship building and greater happiness. We could all use a good laugh right now and a stronger sense of togetherness. It’s not just good for you and those you love it will go a long ways to simply making you feel better. Everything is right about that.
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