Laugh Like Your Life Depended on it — It Does!

Grateful thanks to Tabitha Turner on Unsplash!

by Marcel Hernandez, N.D.

When Norman Cousin’s physicians told him he had just a 1 in 500 chance of recovering from the onset of ankylosing spondylitis, he developed his own recovery program based on laughter therapy and intravenous doses of Vitamin C.

Marcel Hernandez, ND

At the time when he fell ill, Cousins was the editor of a highly respected journal, the Saturday Review of Literature. Upon receiving his diagnosis he began to research the biochemistry of human emotions, a subject that he felt could contribute to fighting illness.

To make himself laugh, Cousins watched old episodes of the TV show “Candid Camera,” as well as Marx Brothers movies and other comic films.

After his usually fatal illness had gone into permanent remission, Cousins wrote: “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.”

I learned of Cousins in the early 1970s, through his book, Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient.

Cousins proved beyond all possibility of doubt that laughter has curative value. But laughter is more than simply curative, it is also preventive.


  • Laughter relieves stress and promotes muscle relaxation. We all know that stress makes us feel tense and tight. A good session of laughter allows our tense muscles to relax with an almost audible sigh.
  • A hearty laugh session contributes to weight loss! “Belly laughter” actually burns calories and reduces the chronic effects of stress hormones, which include weight gain. Laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day can burn approximately 40 calories, about enough to lose three or four pounds over a year.
  • Laughter helps moderate the high blood pressure associated with stress. It releases endorphins, the opiate-like “happy chemicals” that promote a sense of overall well-being and can temporarily relieve pain.
  • Laughing makes our organs jiggle and bounce, giving them exercise, stimulating them, and loosening them from internal adhesions.
  • Laughter makes us breathe harder, increasing our intake of oxygen-rich air, raising our pulse, and stimulating our heart muscles.
  • Regular laughter promotes immune health. Mind/body researchers know that negative or unhappy thoughts produce chemical reactions that decrease our immunity.
  • Laughter helps us develop consistent positive attitudes that release infection-fighting antibodies and neuropeptides.
  • Laughing helps lighten our burden, inspires hope, connects us to others, and helps keep us grounded, focused, and alert.Laughing also helps us release anger and be more quick to forgive. It helps us be more spontaneous and lower our defensiveness, overcome resentments and judgments, let go of crippling inhibitions, and allow deeply experienced emotions to rise to the surface.

These well-documented effects raise a natural question: How can we bring more laughter into our lives?

Laughter doesn’t have to be learned. It’s something we’re born with. Infants begin smiling in the first weeks of life and start laughing aloud within the first months. Even persons who’ve grown up in households where laughter was uncommon can begin tickling their funny bone at any stage of their lives

Start by developing a laughter habit. Set aside times to seek humor and laughter, just as you’d schedule regular exercise. Then build from there. You’ll eventually want to incorporate laughter into the fabric of your life, and you’ll find reason for laughter everywhere.

Smile a lot. Like laughter, smiling is contagious. Can you imagine the world undergoing a laughter pandemic? I often try blending a smile with a taste of kindness, particularly in places where it’s least expected, like check-out lines.

Be positive and avoid putting yourself in situations where you’re surrounded by negativity. Negative emotions are contagious and can initiate a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

Surround yourself with people who appreciate humor and laugh often. People love to share a good joke. Try bringing humor into your social situations. Finally, choose humorous books, movies, and other sources of laughter, and share them with others.

Laughter is fun, free, and an inborn skill that doesn’t need a user manual.

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