Norman Cousins, who was the editor-in chief of the Saturday Review for over 35 years, was told in 1964 that he only had a few months to live. He had a rare disease of the connective tissues called Ankylosing Spondylitis. He was told to “get his affairs in order” since he had only 1 chance in 500 to live.
However, Cousins would not accept the diagnosis. He then did something unheard of and unprecedented. He fired his doctor. Left the hospital. Checked into a hotel. And began to research a solution to his problem.
He learned that the medicine he was taking was depleting his body of vitamin C. So he began taking massive doses of the vitamin. But the most unusual thing he did was rent a movie projector and obtained a pile of funny movies including The Marx Brothers, Candid Camera, Charlie Chaplin and Abbott & Costello. He watched one after another and just sat back and laughed. Believing that laughter was the best medicine he laughed and laughed until his stomach hurt.
Did it work? Who knows. But Cousins lived another 26 years. He died in 1990 at age 75.
His story reminds me of the wise man’s assertion in Proverbs 17:22. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
Studies in recent years have concluded that “laughter activates the immune system.” According to Dr. Lee S. Berk, a preventative care specialist and psychoneuroimmunology researcher at Loma Linda University’s Schools of Allied Heath and Medicine, laughter decreases stress, produces healthy, positive emotions that increase activity within the immune system and promotes healing.
Interestingly, Cousins spent the last 10 years of a his life as a layperson researcher with the UCLA School of Medicine studying this phenomena. His results which were considered ground breaking were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. Lisa R. Yanek, assistant professor in Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s division of General Internal Medicine, says, having a happy disposition can make you healthier because it has an effect on disease. “If you are by nature a cheerful person and look on the bright side of things, you are more likely to be protected from cardiac events.”
As the expression goes, “I’m not a doctor, but…” there seems to be validity to these findings over the past 50 years. Even if it cannot be proved that merriment and mirth prolongs life, we all have experienced the positive benefits of a good laugh. If you’re in a bad mood and someone gets you to laugh, it’s hard to remain in a bad mood.
Laughter releases tension. Relaxes the body. And relieves stress. Laughter binds people together. Increases happiness. And lightens burdens. Laughter enhances relationships. Improves intimacy. Boosts energy. And even diminishes pain.
Laughter is infectious and contagious. It just makes you feel good. So look for ways every day to laugh. Watch a funny movie. Read the comics. Hang out with people who make your laugh. Share a humorous story. Buy a book of jokes. Or play with kids. They will make you laugh.
Incredible! A 3,000 year old Proverb is proved to be physiologically sound and medically plausible. “A joyful heart is a good medicine.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman