Laughter as Therapy
Awakening Your Sixth Sense
by David Simon, M.D.
The healing system of Ayurveda teaches us that nourishing our five senses enlivens our health and well-being. I have found that it’s just as important to cultivate our sixth sense . . . our sense of humor. We’ve all found ourselves facing difficult circumstances, mired in worry. When a good friend calls and has us laughing at ourselves, we’re reminded that there is more than one way to view a situation. The very experience of laughter shifts our perspective and opens us to new possibilities. We feel internally tickled as we make a connection between the predictable way of looking at a situation and an offbeat way.
Laughter allows us to temporarily step outside our space- and time-bound state and touch the field of awareness that is boundless and eternal. The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Humor is a prelude to faith and Laughter is the beginning of prayer.”
From the scientific perspective, laughter is an elegant mind-body phenomenon that reduces the production of stress hormones, boosts the immune system, and relaxes the muscles. Researchers in Japan found that people with rheumatoid arthritis who watched “rakugo” or comic storytelling experienced a significant decrease in their pain and stress hormone levels as well as an increase in two immune-enhancing chemicals. Humor can decrease anxiety, soften anger, lighten depression, and increase our pain tolerance.
Of course, discussing the value of laughter is about as fulfilling as talking about eating a delicious meal or making love. The benefit is not in the description but in the experience, so I encourage you to let yourself get carried away with laughter. Look for humor in life and give yourself permission to laugh out loud when something tickles your funny bone. When I was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, I asked people to post their favorite jokes and funny stories at www.lovefordavid.com/jokes. The collection has been growing, and I invite you to take a humor break there right now and whenever you need to “lighten up.” Here are a few more suggestions:
- Make funny faces with your family and friends.
- Watch comedy films by the Marx Brothers
- Read joke books.
- Spend time with fun, playful people. Laughter is contagious!
- Share your embarrassing stories.
- Host a game night with friends.
- Share your favorite joke.
- Blow bubbles.
- Play a practical joke on a friend (who has a sense of humor).
- Blow bubbles.
- Twirl a hula hoop.
- Try Laughter Yoga.
- Start a pillow fight.
- Join or visit a laughter club.
- Visit a park and watch children and dogs playing.
Be creative and give yourself permission to commit acts of silliness, irresponsibility, and lightheartedness. Remember that you don’t have to be in a good mood all the time – you just need at least one good belly laugh every day.