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imply Well

Lighten Up with Humor, Play, and Pleasure

© John W Travis MD, MPH

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Simply Well by John W Travis MD, MPH. View all columns in series
The process of becoming healthier can be presented as such serious business that you lose much of the humor and joy of living that characterize wellbeing. Many books about health are filled with predictions of dire consequences for failure to follow particular methods, horror stories of what certain foods or lack of foods can do, or warnings about the cancer-causing qualities of everything. It’s enough to make you crazy!

Recent studies indicate that humor is an effective stress reducer and that it may actually increase antibody production, which means a stronger immune system. In 1964, Norman Cousins, then editor of Saturday Review, helped to heal himself from a life-threatening disease through a regimen of vitamin C, renewed self-responsibility, and humor. His reading of several classic books on the subject of stress convinced him that disease was fostered by chemical changes in the body produced by emotions such as anger and fear. He wondered whether an antidote of hope, love, laughter, and the will to live would have the opposite effect. Encouraged by watching Marx Brothers movies and Candid Camera TV sequences, reading humorous books and stories, and listening to jokes, he found that short periods of hearty laughter were enough to induce several hours of painless sleep. Years later, Cousins recommended laughter to others, claiming that this "inner exercising" was beneficial in stimulating breathing, muscular activity, and heart rate.

It takes a long time to become young.

Pablo Picasso

Worldwide interest continues to grow in establishing the benefits of laughter and humor in health, supported by wide-ranging scientific research. The Humor Project Inc., based in Saratoga Springs, New York, one of many associations dedicated to tickling the funny bone, publishes Laughing Matters Magazine in twenty countries, and offers Daily Laffirmations through its Web site,

Raymond Moody Jr., MD, the author of Laugh after Laugh: The Healing Power of Humor, has used this approach with his patients for many years. Humor works, he claims, because laughter helps take your mind off pain and problems, and catalyzes the basic will to live.

The arrival of a good clown exercises more beneficial influence upon the health of a town than twenty asses laden with drugs. Thomas Sydenham, seventeenth-century physician

Take a Seriousness Break Right Now
Look in the mirror and make the wildest, most distorted face you can make. Now make an even wilder one.

Throw away your troubles. Stand up right now. Form your hands into fists and bring them together at the center of your chest. Raise your elbows on a line with your fists. Thrust your shoulders and elbows back sharply, as if you are trying to shake something off your back and shoulders. After the thrust, let your fists come together again at the level of your chest, and thrust your shoulders and elbows back again. Do this six to eight times in rapid succession, saying "get off my back" each time you thrust back. Release whatever is burdening you.

Read the comics in today’s paper. Forget the front page for a while.

Put on a comedy video, if you have one. Cue it up to your favorite funny part, and play it and replay it several times. Rent a few comedy tapes or go to a light, entertaining movie. Do this regularly.

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About The Author
John W. Travis, MD, MPH, is the creator of the Wellness Inventory and its parent, the Wellness Index. He is the founder and co-director of Wellness Associates, a consulting and publishing group whose mission is to transform the culture from its current focus on authoritarianism/domination into......more
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