Remember Norman Cousins? He was the guy who discovered that laughter is actually an anesthetic capable of quieting great physical pain. He wrote a book about this that was so brilliant, he was hired to teach and do research the UCLA medical school, although he was not a doctor.
Norman was the exuberant, take-the-bull-by-the-horns editor of the Saturday Review in the 1970’s. At the top of his career, he contracted a mysterious disease and was given 6 months to live. His doctor put him in the hospital with opiates that couldn’t touch his excruciating pain without knocking him out cold.
But Norman had noticed that whenever anything made him laugh he experienced actual physical relief. So he brought in a huge, noisy, ‘70’s era projector and started playing comedy films around the clock: Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplain, Guilligan’s Island. Here’s how Norman described the results:
“I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep! When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.” Norman Cousins recovered his health and lived another 22 years as an author, speaker, and med school professor.
The thing that inspires me about Norman Cousins is that he didn’t just wait around for something funny to happen. He went out and got a projector (a huge pain in the ass in the 1970’s,) and he got the films (pain in the ass) and he made himself watch these things even though his pain level was through the roof.
We have it so much easier today. Practically every funny movie and tv show that’s ever been made is available on our computers, much of it for free. YouTube even has the funny scenes broken out so we don’t have to watch the whole thing. It’s easy, cheap medicine, no side effects, readily available.
There’s a growing notion that laughter can work on emotional pain too. I tend to believe this because of a story a friend told me years ago. She was losing custody of her baby daughter in the most slanderous, hate-fueled, underhanded custody battle I ever heard tell of, and her Dad had flown out to be with her when the court’s decision was read. Afterwards, numb with pain, they returned to their hotel and collapsed unable to speak. Her Dad had been a Navy fighter pilot who had faced down unbelievable horrors and she had been half-way expecting him to share some strength or wisdom that would make this blow survivable. She was sure he had expected the same of himself. But instead he just lay across the bed of their sad, bargain hotel room, mute and staring at the ceiling. My friend said she thought she was going to die
But then, out of nowhere, her Dad starts to laugh, just a chuckle at first, but soon he really gets going. And, laughter being contagious, my friend starts laughing, too. This is an unbelievable development – the two of them are devastated on the worst day of their lives where she has had her first child snatched away, and he his first grandchild. And yet, here they are in the grips of total laughter that went on and on. It was real laughter, too, not forced or staged. It had real-laughter rhythms, like it would seem to run out and they would be quiet a moment. But then one of them would giggle and they’d be off to the races again. When the laughter finally truly subsided, things were different. They were comfortable with each other and exhausted. And my friend knew she could live.
There is something called Laughter Yoga that has been getting good reviews and gaining popularity in the last few years. You don’t even have to experience something funny for this approach. People are simply led through a series of exercises, which really sound playful and easy. The session culminates in 15 – 20 minutes of sustained laughter, which starts out as a forced exercise, but develops into genuine belly laughs. The practice of Laughter Yoga is said to “increase happiness, strengthen the immune system, reduce pain and lower stress,” according to an article in the “A Place For Mom Newsletter” which is available online.
I guess I am thinking about all this because I’ve just lost two friends and I’m in grief, which comes out sometimes as sadness, but also, sneakily, as crankiness, fatigue, impatience, judgementalism, and self loathing. To say I could use a laugh is an understatement. And yet it seems disrespectful to respond to the deaths of my beloved friends by locking myself away and binge-watching The Big Bang Theory.
But, I didn’t have to think about this very long to know that the people I’m grieving would heartily approve! And what if it works? I’m going to give it a try. I’ve just purchased a season of The Big Bang Theory and I’ll let you know how it goes. Does anyone reading this have experience with laughter as an anecdote for either physical or emotional pain. I would love to hear about that. Also, what makes you laugh? Please let me know in the comment box at the end of this post.
Norman Cousin’s book, Anatomy of an Illness, is available from Amazon Books or your library can probably get it for you. A movie of the same name, starring Ed Asner, is available on YouTube, as well as various clips of Norman Cousins’ interviews and lectures.
You can read the “Place For Mom Newsletter” article on Laughter Yoga by pressing here: http://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/1-23-14-benefits-of-laughter-yoga/
Also, you can purchase The Big Bang Theory and every other funny show on the planet at iTunes or Amazon. A lot are available on Netflix. And YouTube is full of it.
God Bless Us Everyone
Originally posted 2016-05-30 04:39:44.