by Helen McKay

There’s more to living than just surviving

When we look at medical research we find that we have published thousands of research studies on misery and suffering. We know the psychophysiology of depression, the neurochemistry of rage and aggression. But who has ever bothered to study the neurophysiology of delight? Or the neurochemistry of happiness? Or the psychophysiology of fulfilment? Almost no-one – until the last few years.

Healing power of Humour

Norman Cousins, a famous journalist in the USA, who, in his 60’s, cured himself of a potentially fatal illness by laughter. Do you remember his book `The Anatomy of an Illness’? Cousins, with his ankylising spondilitis, heard his life expectancy was almost nil.

Cousins checked himself out of the hospital and into a hotel with a private nurse to care for him. Incidentally, this worked out cheaper than a hospital. So he spent what he thought would be his last months reading PG Wodehouse, watching funny movies, videos, reading funny books, listening to top humourists on tape and engaging in a continuous party. He believed the only thing to do was to spend every last moment in bliss. He recovered from his illness and went back to work!

Norman Cousins was made the first non-medical honorary president of the American Medical Association in one of the States. He was the first non-medical author to write a leading article in a major medical journal on his experience. He holds the only honorary medical degree awarded at Yale University School of Medicine by the New Haven County Medical Assn and the Connecticut State Medical Society. He finally died recently, aged 84.

What is humour?

A person’s sense of humour is influenced by culture, personal beliefs, and where a person comes from. Dr Laurence Peter, author of `The Laughter Prescription,’ says that a sense of humour and two of its counterparts can contribute in a major way to the restoration of physical health.

There is a benefit in being able to laugh at yourself. In the Chinese culture one of the healing sounds is Hah. Laughter itself has a beneficial effect physically, as laughter releases endorphins into the system to relieves pain symptoms and give a feeling of well-being. A good belly laugh causes full action of the diaphram,ÿwhich benefits the cardiovascular system by increasing the amount of oxygen that is absorbed into the bloodstream.

With a belly laugh the whole body is revitalized by internal massage of all the major organs. A phrase coined by Norman Cousins is Internal Jogging. He found that one 10 minute session of laughter could give him up to 2 hours of pain-free sleep.

Just as laughter can chase away pain and depression it can draw people to you. ‘Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.’

Humour eases tensions, calms moods and can allow you the ability to let annoyances roll off your back. It bestows better mental health and harmony in relationships. Humorous moods are infectious – it’s hard to be a stick-in-the- mud around fun people. It increases participation in almost any activity – no-one wants to be left out of a group of people who are enjoying themselves.

How often do you laugh?

A good belly laugh brings many benefits and, for good health, you should laugh at least 20 times per day. Not tee-hee laughter, but good Ha-Ha-Ha laughs. If you are not achieving this level of laughter, look for ways in which you can add humour to you life.

We surveyed a large group of people and found that a few people laugh 50 times a day, others none. The majority were in the area of 5-10 laughs per day – still not enough to get those endorphins moving.

Four ways to bring humour into your life:

  • Think funny – humour is easier to recognize than to analyse. Look for it in your everyday world.
  • Adapt material. It is a universal language. Use the internet to find it.
  • Be the target- be willing to laugh at yourself (much Jewish humour comes from this source)
  • Share your humour. Tell your latest joke – share a funny story. Providing laughter and happiness for others can get you and others, a new perspective on life.

    How can we find humour if we live alone?

    • Ring a friend and swap funny experiences – the telephone is a user-friendly way of communicating.
  • Watch funny videos
  • Listen to humorous audio tapes
  • Find funny jokes on the internet – I have jokes sent to me everyday by email from all round the world.
  • See comedy movies, go to funny shows
  • Swap jokes with the butcher, grocer, etc
  • Buy joke books and read them to a friend on the phone
  • Recall funny experiences and retell them

    Balloon Test for Happiness:
    8 steps for a Happier life:

    1. Expose yourself to new experiences and try doing things in new ways, rather than sticking to secure and safe routines.
    2. Listen carefully to your true feelings when evaluating your life experiences. Don’t accept the views of authority or other people without first questioning them.
    3. Avoid pretences or game playing in your dealings with others.
    4. Be prepared to express your own views even if they are not the views of the majority of others.
    5. Assume full responsibility for what you do – don’t hide behind other people.
    6. Work hard at everything you do.
    7. Learn to have a positive attitude toward the people you encounter.
    8. Try to identify and eliminate unnecessary defensiveness in your relations with others. Listen to other people’s points of view.

    Helen McKay © 1999