The health benefits of laughter

February 23, 2012

Cancer, Pain, Relationships, Stress

Laughter really is the best medicine because it is free, has no side effects and it works.

by Debra J. White — 

Laughter really is the best medicine because it is free, has no side effects and it works. Scientific evidence from the Food and Drug Administration may be lacking, but laughter elevates mood, improves circulation, relieves chronic pain and stress, as well as enhances family relationships. Doctors are now recommending laughter for cancer patients and for seniors in retirement homes.

But where did organized laughter begin? Laughter and its impact on patients caught the interest of an Indian physician, Dr. Madan Kataria. After he wrote an article for a medical journal in 1995, he went a step further. On a Mumbai street, he asked strangers to laugh with him.

And so began laughter clubs, of which there are now more than 6,000 in 60 countries, including France, China, Brazil, Bahrain and Viet Nam. A laughter club in Denmark set a world record in the year 2000, when 10,000 people got together to laugh in a Copenhagen public park.

People join laughter clubs for different reasons, such as the onset of a serious illness, death of a loved one, job loss or a personal crisis. I discovered the Tempe laughter club in January 2010, when I found myself on the verge of homelessness. A pedestrian/car accident in 1994 left me disabled with brain and spine injuries. The home I shared edged towards foreclosure, and the bank was unmerciful. I had two dogs and fretted about paying rent with Social Security Disability.

The laughter club relieved my tension and fears and helped me sleep at night. I recently attended my first world laughter conference in San Diego, Calif., and laughed with strangers from the U.S. and around the world. I returned home exhilarated, even though I still have to supplement my income by recycling aluminum cans.

No one may really know why laughter works, but it does. The actor Alan Alda says that when people are laughing, they are not killing each other. Laughter gives prison inmates hope, even though they may be incarcerated for long periods. Businesses use laughter to boost employee morale, because happy employees are more productive. Laughter among seniors in congregate care facilities lessens the effects of isolation and uplifts spirits. Mentally challenged children and adults also benefit from laughter.

Despite a rocky economy and endless political gridlock, laughter groups continue to proliferate. They offer a glimmer of hope in a challenging world. Laughter brings people together, since we all laugh in the same language.

To learn more about the Tempe laughter group, call or email Linda Scharf, the local laughter leader: 480-668-0461 or lsscharf@aol.com. There is no admission charge, and the club meets on the second Friday of every month at 6 p.m. at the Southwest Institute for Healing Arts, 1100 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe, Ariz.

P.S. I eventually found a rental in a trailer park that accepts pets.

Debra J. White is a freelance writer living in Tempe, Ariz. She volunteers for the Arizona Animal Welfare League, Phoenix Animal Care Coalition and the Sierra Club. She lives with two rescued dogs and attends the monthly laughter club at SWIHA where she laughs for no reason. whitedebraj@yahoo.com.

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