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Laughter is Often the Best Medicine

iStock 000022375431SmallA recent study showed that emotional responses ranging from sadness to fear and to happiness had a positive effect on one's health. Norman Cousins, in his well known book, Anatomy of an Illness, spoke of the positive impact of watching Marx Brothers movies on his serious illness. Some time ago I came down with pneumonia, pulled out videotapes of I Love Lucy reruns and laughed myself back to good health. Clearly, humor and laughter have a positive effect on one's attitude and health overall. While we don’t fully understand the specifics, our immune system appears to benefit from these emotions.

As a physician, it is often easy to prescribe medications to patients for a whole variety of maladies. One must be very cautious with the use of medications, especially in older adults. Is it possible to prescribe humor to our patients? Absolutely! Many of my patients suffer significant pain from arthritis. How can humor and laughter help? Some of the theories regarding how one experiences pain suggest that one can be distracted from pain with other sensations or feelings. Laughter can actually distract from one's pain. Isn’t it worth a try to treat pain with humor first rather than with medications that often tend to dull the senses?

iStock 000023096862SmallIt is also a fallacy to think that humor declines with age. In fact, I have found the opposite to be true! The benefits of humor take on a variety of forms in the physician's office. I hear many excellent jokes from my patients, and they take the form of all types of humor. This humor can actually be quite beneficial to the doctor-patient relationship. It is important for patients to be able to communicate with their physicians, and humor often provides an excellent means to facilitate this communication. I’ve also found that many patients will bring up problems that they might not otherwise mention through the use of humor.

Humor also allows us to discuss topics that might be difficult or painful to talk about. Many people suffer losses as they get older. While one might not expect that humor has a place in discussing grief and losses, humor can often assist one in dealing with these difficult emotions. It also helps patients to know that their physician cares enough to share some laughter with them. Too many physicians separate themselves from their patients emotionally--a dynamic that tends to restrict the ability of the physician to communicate effectively with their patient. The next time that you see your physician, bring a short joke with you. It may make both your days and improve the doctor-patient relationship!

Humor can be a very valuable part of life. It can improve one's health. It can help your relationships with those around you. And, best of all, humor can be fun!


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