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The Healing Power of Humor

What's so funny about Fibro?

by Karen Lee Richards, ChronicPainConnection Expert

Current research is confirming what biblical wisdom told us centuries ago – that laughter is good for us.  Proverbs 17:22 observed, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” 

You know that laughing makes you feel better emotionally, but now scientific studies are also revealing positive physiological effects.  Laughter:

  • Reduces pain by triggering the pituitary gland to secrete endorphins, a natural painkiller.
  • Stimulates your immune system to fight infection.
  • Gives a feeling of well-being brought on when the endocrine system secretes hormones called catecholamines.
  • Aides brain function by improving circulation and oxygenating your bodies.
  • Improves discernment by stimulating your hypothalamus. 

Well-known author Norman Cousins was the first to document the physiological benefits of laughter, giving validity to the adage that laughter is the best medicine.  In 1964 Cousins was diagnosed with a painful, degenerative connective tissue disease and given a one-in-500 chance of recovering.  He theorized that if stress and negative emotions could increase the body’s susceptibility to illness, then surely laughter and positive emotions could improve the body’s ability to heal.  Cousins discovered that ten minutes of good “belly laughter” seemed to have and anesthetic effect on him, allowing him two or more hours of pain-free sleep.  He began watching Marx Brothers comedies and Candid Camera


Cousins so firmly believed in the benefits of laughter that he provided funds to launch a pilot study investigating the healing power of humor.  In this study led by Lee Berk, DrPH, Associate Director at the Center for Neuroimmunology at Loma Linda University Medical Center, patients’ blood was monitored before, during and after sessions of mirthful laughter.  They found that mirthful laughter can reduce stress hormone levels and increase the secretion of growth hormone, an enhancer of key immune responses.  Dr. Berk explained, “The biological effects of a single one-hour session of viewing a humorous video can last from 12 to 24 hours, while…daily 30-minute exposure to such humor and laughter videos produces profound and long-lasting changes in these measures.”

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