Have a good laugh – It heals!

Many clinics and hospitals are showing comedies, such as ‘Mr Bean’ or ‘Just for Laughs Gags’, in the patient waiting rooms, have you ever wondered why? These shows consist of funny short clips that make most people laugh, and laughter is undoubtedly a relief for many anxiously waiting patients and caregivers. There is an idiom, “laughter is the best medicine”, which originates from the Bible [1]. So, can laughter heal?

Professor Norman Cousins from the University of California, Los Angeles was the first researcher who wrote about the healing power of laughter in modern medicine. Cousins suffered from ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that caused the spine bones to fuse over time. With no cure, spondylitis is painful and crippling. Cousins, however, managed to “laugh his way” out of the illness. In 1976, Cousins published his personal experience of how laugher helped him to overcome his ankylosing spondylitis in the New England Journal of Medicine. In which, he claimed laughter to be a reliable painkiller and episodes of laughter resulted in the reduction of inflammatory biomarkers [2]. Subsequently, he published a book in 1979 with the title of “Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration” [3]. The book quickly became a bestseller and now a classic in holistic health.

Hunter “Patch” Adams is another American physician who pioneered the use of clowning in medical settings. Patch Adams’s story was made into a movie in 1998, and Robin Williams played the role. Since then, medical clowning is well recognised as a therapeutic intervention in hospital settings, bringing laughter to both children and adults alike [4].

Laughter can heal in many ways. First, laughter can invoke beneficial physiological change. When one laughs, heart and breathing rates increase, which improve blood oxygenation like aerobic exercise. The immune system also gets a boost through the reduction of stress hormone. After a laugh, one generally feels good and relax. The effects can last up to 15 minutes [5].

Secondly, laughter is known to induce positive emotions like joy and happiness [6]. A hearty laugh can not only dispel low moods but also have analgesic effects; hence, laughter is a painkiller indeed. Frequently laughter also makes one be more light-hearted and have a more humorous look in life. Such an attitude has great stress modulating effects, making one more adaptable to change and stressful condition like a severe illness.

Last but not least, laughter can foster social relationships [7]. Having a good laugh together can break the ice between strangers, fix a strained relationship, and bring love ones closer to each other. Such social and emotional support has a tremendously positive influence on health and healing. So, always have a good laugh no matter how painful or despair you can be with an illness. Let laughter open the door to your healing journey!


[1]        laughter is the best, Idiom. (n.d.). https://www.theidioms.com/laughter-is-the-best-medicine/ (accessed September 24, 2020).

[2]        N. Cousins, Anatomy of an illness (as perceived by the patient), N. Engl. J. Med. 295 (1976) 1458–1463. doi:10.1056/NEJM197612232952605.

[3]        N. Cousins, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration, Norton, 1979. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=DRRJgckij44C.

[4]        A. Dionigi, C. Canestrari, Clowning in health care settings: The point of view of adults, Eur. J. Psychol. 12 (2016) 473–488. doi:10.5964/ejop.v12i3.1107.

[5]        R.A. Martin, Humor, laughter, and physical health: Methodological issues and research findings., Psychol. Bull. 127 (2001) 504–519. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.127.4.504.

[6]        J. Hofmann, T. Platt, W. Ruch, Laughter and Smiling in 16 Positive Emotions, IEEE Trans. Affect. Comput. 8 (2017) 495–507. doi:10.1109/TAFFC.2017.2737000.

[7]        S.K. Scott, N. Lavan, S. Chen, C. McGettigan, The social life of laughter, Trends Cogn. Sci. 18 (2014) 618–620. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2014.09.002.

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