Laughter is Good Medicine
by Trudy Boyle
There isn’t much to laugh at when it comes to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and so many other painful, life threatening, and on-going difficult illnesses that life throws in our way. Dr. Itami, who founded Meaningful Life Therapy in Japan, uses laughter as part of his healing prescription for cancer patients.
Humour therapy is built into his unique approach to treating his patients, alongside conventional medicine. Patients are encouraged to go looking for funny stories. In fact, he invites them to find something funny about their own personal and difficult situations. You know, things like the crazy assumptions people make or the unhelpful suggestions that are sometimes offered. Or the particular ironies of our situation.
The point is to find a funny story to share with others when they meet in a group setting each week. Why, you may ask? What on earth is the purpose of this odd assignment?
Well, for one thing, laughter is good medicine. There isn’t necessarily undisputed clinical proof to say that laughter boosts the immune system. There are, however, thousands of anecdotal testaments that laughter boosts our spirits and improves the quality of our everyday life.
When I explained this to my 88-year-old Mother at the time of my diagnosis, eliciting her help in finding humor, she was appalled.
“How on earth do you expect me to find something funny about your cancer diagnosis?”
But guess what; the very next day I received a phone call from my Mother before breakfast and this is what she said:
“Trudy, if I told you once, I told you a hundred times to stop eating all that organic food. Now, look what’s happened?”
We both roared with laughter and I knew that My Mother was solidly and forever on my team.
As we start paying attention to moments and events that will yield a funny story, we give ourselves a temporary mental break. We shine the spotlight of our attention away from the moments of anxiety and worry that often accompany illness. I recall the fear I experienced while waiting and waiting for the confirmation of a test and/or the possibility of a serious illness diagnosis.
When we surround ourselves with friendly, goodhearted funny people and don’t resist the humor, we lighten up, even when times are tough. Children and young people are catalysts of joy and laughter. Lucky me – I have had the gift of spending inordinate amounts of time with all of my grandchildren, at various ages, and I find laughter flows naturally when I am with them.
I have a friend that as soon as I hear her voice, we both burst out laughing. A stranger may think we are losing it and in a way we are. Losing ourselves in the ironies and cosmic jokes of life itself and our own funny selves in particular. When I hang up the phone, I can feel my heart and immune system saying YES. You just gave me exactly the boost I needed.
All of us have daily trials large and small so why not actively seek out gentle joy and humor so that we laugh more often both for the fun of it and the health of it.
“Practice wise medicine and try to have a good laugh at least three times a day.” — Edward Hays
PS I love being around people who love to laugh. I am not that funny myself but when I am with them, laughter bubbles up out of nowhere, to my delight.
Trudy Boyle is coordinator for the Living Fully with Illness program at the ToDo Institute and a frequent contributor to Thirty Thousand Days. She brings 29 years of experience teaching the principles of Japanese Psychology, and for the past 13 years she has focused entirely on Living Fully with Illness. Trudy is the fo......