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Humor Really Can Heal


What a Laugh

Humor Really Can Heal

When things are looking bleak for your health... at work... or in your personal life, it's difficult to see anything funny about anything. But there's a school of thought that says that's just what you should do - use humor to reduce stress and encourage physical and emotional wellness and healing.

To get the inside scoop on humor in healing, I spoke with Allen Klein (aka "Mr. Jollytologist"), MA, incoming president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor and author of The Healing Power of Humor. Klein gives speeches and conducts workshops around the world to teach people how to use humor to deal with changes, challenges and the not-so-funny stuff, from everyday trials to triumphing over tragedy.

Medical Fact or Fiction?

There are many theories to explain how humor promotes physical and emotional well-being. In a study by Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, at Loma Linda University in California, the immune-suppressing hormone cortisol was found to be less prevalent in people's blood when they laughed. Another theory is that laughter triggers the secretion of pleasure-inducing endorphins, although this has never been proven.

While no one knows the precise connection between humor and healing, Klein points out that we do know that laughter...

  • Raises and then lowers our heart rate and blood pressure, similar to aerobic exercise.
  • Relaxes our muscles.
  • Oxygenates the blood, so we think better after a laugh

Of course, a lot of the evidence linking humor with healing and health is anecdotal. Klein advises that you ask yourself, how do I feel when I laugh? Chances are, you feel pretty good. Just as anger and hostility are bad for your heart and health, humor and laughter are good for you.

Open Up Your "Humor Eyes"

"Humor is all around you," says Klein. "All you have to do is open your eyes and ears and look." He advises that you try to reframe challenging situations using your "humor eyes." When you find humor in trying times, one of the first and foremost changes you experience is that you see your problems in a new light. Suddenly, you have a fresh perspective and may see new ways to deal with them.

Klein tells the story of a woman who was depressed and suicidal. Standing on a bridge, she was tempted to hurl herself off it, when suddenly she looked down at her new $150 shoes and said, "No way." This made her laugh, turn her back on the bridge and seek counseling.

Humor can play a role in situations from the sublime to the ridiculous. In traffic jams, Klein blows bubbles out the window. While you may not want to carry your sense of humor this far, there are small steps you can take to start lightening up in your own everyday life. For example, keep a funny cartoon or photo on your desk at work. Or when the going gets tough, call an old friend or family member and make them tell you the childhood story that always makes you laugh.

Klein advises that you have a "humor mantra" on hand to repeat to yourself at stressful moments. Make up your own or use one of his following suggestions...

  • I have no time for a crisis, my schedule is full.
  • Oh, what an opportunity for growth and learning!
  • I refuse to be intimidated by reality.
  • Take it back. It's not what I ordered.
  • I'd rather be ____________ (dancing, skiing, jogging, etc.).
  • Beam me up, Scotty.

Research has shown that people who volunteer often live longer. Another important part of Klein's philosophy is sharing humor with others. When he sees a person in trouble, he tries to help. For example, recently his plane was delayed for several hours, so he gave the flight attendant one of his red clown noses (which you can usually purchase at a costume or party-supply store) to wear. Next thing he knew, many of the aggravated passengers were smiling once again, and some of the uncomfortable tension drained out of the situation.

Fill Your World With Bright Colors

According to Klein, your attitude is like a box of crayons that color the world. Constantly use gray colors, and your picture will always be dark and depressing. Use humor to add bright colors, and your picture begins to lighten up.

In his experience, humor has played a role in even the most difficult circumstances. Klein has worked with people with cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer's - among others - and all have found some humor to give them the courage to go on.

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This article was provided by Bottom Line's Daily Health News. Bottom Line's vast network of leading mainstream, alternative, and complementary practitioners brings you the information you need to make informed decisions about your health. Sign up now for their FREE electronic newsletter.

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