By Dianne P. Collins

From time to time I enjoy a good laugh. Decades ago I had a cat who made me laugh at some of her antics. You know the old saying “curiosity kills the cat” – well one day while I was having a bath my cat jumped on the rim of the tub. She was fascinated by the water pouring into the tub, but she slipped and fell into the bath. She quickly scrambled out and spent the next couple of hours licking herself dry. I can’t help laughing every time I think of it. Another time I got on an underground train in London and my hair got caught between the two doors. For three stops the train doors didn’t open on my side, finally the doors opened and I managed to extricate my hair. It wasn’t funny at the time, but I chuckled later as I realized the humour of the situation. Once I had to stay overnight in a hotel in Antigua before coming to Nevis. I placed my toiletries in the bathroom and went out to get something else from my suitcase. I went back to the bathroom and couldn’t find my toiletries, I was puzzled by this, until I discovered that my hotel room had two bathrooms and my items were in the other one. Phew! Ha ha, what a relief I wasn’t going crazy after all!

Our mind, body and spirit are deeply connected, how we think and feel affects our immune system.Good natured humour and laughter gives our immune system a positive boost. Mood can have a strong effect on the body’s ability to heal itself. Stress, bitterness and depression are known factors in disease. Laughter triggers the release of a brain chemical called endorphins, which is the body’s natural pain killer and produces a feeling of well-being. Clinical studies have shown that laughter lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, boosts immune function by raising levels of infection fighting t-cells.

An example of someone using humour to obtain pain relief, is the famous story of Norman Cousins. In 1964 he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a condition which causes the connective tissue in the spine to deteriorate. He decided to find out what could be done to overturn the grim prognosis. The prescribed medical treatments did not improve his condition, so Cousins ever the optimist, with the doctors approval checked himself out of the hospital and into a hotel. He must of have been a firm believer of that old dictum “laughter is the best medicine”. He obtained a movie projector and some funny films and television comedies. As a result of having many good laughs, he noticed that his bodily reactions enabled him to have some hours of pain free sleep. The grim prognosis was now a thing of the past and within a matter of weeks he was back to work. One of the most important aspects to his recovery was his positive state of mind and his will to live.

After many years of studies, researchers have concluded that humour has therapeutic value. This therapy is known as Laughter or Humour Therapy. It aims to use the natural physiological process of laughter to help relieve physical or emotional stresses or discomfort. At the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, they use traditional cancer treatments along with complementary modalities such as Laughter Therapy.

Norman Cousin’s story is an exceptional one, most people would not be able to summon up the energy to have belly laughs while in extreme pain. But understanding the link between how we feel emotionally and pain is important, especially in the area of disease. Stress and worry can dampen the immune system; incorporating humour into your life strengthens the immune system. Our bodies react to the way we feel.