The Laughter Formula for Good Health

When was the last time you really laughed hard?  The kind of laugh that grabs you and sends you reeling out of control so much that you forgot what caused you to laugh?

A common proverb states, “A merry heart doeth good like medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” King Solomon said,“ A cheerful heart is good medicine.”

The idea of laughter as a formula for good health is an old idea. Voltaire once said “The art of medicine consists of keeping the patient amused while nature heals the disease.” Good humor is the ability to feel inner joy, peace, and harmony within yourself and your surroundings.

As entertainer Victor Borge once said, “Humor is the shortest distance between two people.”

Humor offers a valuable perspective on yourself and your world. 

  • Laughter is an affirmation of our humanness.
  • Laughter can be a face saving way to express our anxieties, fears, and the other hidden emotions to others.
  • It breaks the ice, builds trust, and draws people together.

The word humor derives from the root word umor, meaning liquid or fluid.  In the middle ages, energy was thought to relate to body fluid and emotional state and determined health and disposition.  Hence the quote, “He is in a bad humor.”  A 13th century physician told jokes to patients after surgery.  In the American Ojibway Indian tribes, they had a doctor-clown who performed tricks to heal the sick.

Our culture often inhibits or puts down humor even though it is a natural pleasurable response.  We are made to associate growing up and being mature adults with getting serious. We are told we won’t get anywhere in life if we aren’t serious. Somehow being serious is often equated with being solemn and perhaps humorless.  Often we push away good humor worrying about what others will think of us.

Yet, we need to repair our funny bone because laughter doesn’t seem to come naturally anymore.  Fortunately, humor and laughter is not a bitter pill to swallow. Humor is one of the best remedies to stressful situations. During a good hearty laugh, your brain releases endorphins, the opiates of the brain- the natural highs that can help decrease the negative effects of stress on our body. Laughter is an “inner jogging”  – the total workout of a good laugh can burn as many calories per hour as brisk walking .You don’t even need fancy shoes or have to get off the couch.

Laughter not only helps us change our perspective, it is also used in medical settings:

  • Studies indicate that laughter can lower serum cortisol, increase T-lymphocytes and T cells, and stimulate the immune systems – all measures involved with psychoneuroimmunology (PNI).
  • Laughter can relax muscles and can help patients in pain change their focus.
  • Laughter acts like a form of physical exercise- heart rate and blood pressure temporarily rise, breathing becomes faster and deeper, and oxygen surges throughout the bloodstream.

Norman Cousins was the first to call attention to the medical community using laughter to help treat his crippling arthritic condition.  He felt if negative emotions could have an impact on his health, the opposite must be true.  So he watched funny videos and claimed that ten minutes of belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give him at least two hours of pain free sleep.  Some hospitals around the country even bring humor carts to patients’ rooms.

We know that when groups laugh together, they create a collective communal energy.  Laughter is the universal language and can bring us together – an ambitious thought, but at least one that is in the spirit of healing and hope.

Here are a few helpful websites. Don’t forget to check out that comedy you love, look for the joy and laughter you see and hear with children, and share that joke and smile with others.


Louise B. Lubin, PhD

Independent Practice of Psychotherapy for Adults and Couples
Community Faculty Eastern Virginia Medical School
Program Director, Many Paths to Healing
National Register Credentialed since 1982