It's a funny thing. Research continues to prove that humor can help to improve our physical health.
The website for the University of California San Diego's Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, which offers "Laughter Infusion" classes for cancer patients, says, "Research has shown that laughter can enhance our immune system, assist with pain management, and boost our mood. Laughter really is the best medicine!"
America's most famous humorist, Mark Twain, said it a little differently when he remarked that "The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter."
Among the examples of how that weapon works are the amazing stories of soldiers' ability to endure starvation, tropical diseases and torture in prison camps during World War II, as told in Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides. Humor was about the only weapon the soldiers had, and it was often effective in helping them manage fear and maintain their health against fearsome odds. Some of them actually found ways to laugh at their absurd circumstances and sadistic captors. Humor had the power to break the despotic control of fear, disease and despair. This, in turn, allowed many of them to endure an otherwise unendurable horror . . . and survive.
The PBS show This Emotional Life aired a "Benefits of Humor" segment last year that offered convincing evidence about the health benefits of humor. Among the findings:
Physical benefits of mirth and laughter: increased relaxation response, reduced pain and reduced stress.
Emotional benefits of humor and mirth: elevated mood and feelings of well-being, reduced depression, anxiety and tension, and increased hope, optimism, energy and vigor.
Social benefits of humor and mirth: bonding with friends and family, reinforcement of group identity and cohesiveness, increased friendliness and altruism, and happier marriages and close relationships.
Even though science is continuing to prove the connection between humor and health, and helping us to understand it more fully, humor can still be pretty hard to find sometimes. For me regular prayer tends to restore and protect the joy from which humor naturally flows. Prayer that acknowledges a divine source of joy tends to silence fear and open the door to a more spiritual perspective on life, which includes humor and promotes health.
Here's an example: A good friend tells an interesting story about the power humor can play in dissolving fear. A quickly spreading rash had caused his face to become swollen and painful and he was afraid. He had learned from his practice of Christian Science that fear tends to aggravate unhealthy conditions, whereas prayer has the opposite effect. His prayer took the form of acknowledging a divine source of peace and well-being. In this calm state of mind, he decided to take a look in the mirror to see if he looked as bad as he felt. What he saw was so ridiculously cartoonish, so completely unlike his real, normal look, that instead of shrinking back in terror, he burst out laughing. The laughter immediately dissolved the fear and the rash disappeared within the hour.
We may not fully understand the scientific relationship between humor and physical health, but when personal experience appears to confirm what science is proving, and vice versa, that's something to be grateful for . . . and something to smile about.
And in case you thought science was just now discovering the link between humor and health, or maybe wondered, like me, where humor and joy actually originate, here's what Abraham's wife, Sarah, said after giving birth to a son in her 90th year:
"God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me" (Genesis 21:6).
Perhaps as a way of acknowledging God's gift of humor, Sarah named her son Isaac, Hebrew for "he laughs."
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Joy and laughter are contagiously healthy . . . and free, making them a formidable weapon against fear and disease, and pointing the way to better health.
Bob Clark is a Christian Science practitioner from Belleair. Read his blog at simplyhealthyflorida.com.