In Your Corner: National Humor Month

Oh Happy Days!

April is National Humor Month, according to the National Wellness Institute. Having a sense of humor and being happy are good for your health, and there is an organization for “humor and laughter professionals and enthusiasts.” It’s the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH). You can learn more about it at www.aath.org.

Laughter has been “scientifically proven to reduce pain, strengthen our immune system, decrease stress, lower blood pressure while improving circulation, helps us put life’s trials and tribulations into healthy perspective by making them seem less significant, aids us in overcoming fear, allows us to take ourselves less seriously, and triggers our creativity.”

What possible drug could do all that? If it could be bottled, the producer would be the richest person on Earth.

This whole humor therapy movement got a tremendous boost from Norman Cousins’ book “Anatomy of an Illness.” I watched an interview of Cousins. The synopsis follows: Cousins was an American political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate. He returned home from a visit to the Soviet Union and contracted an illness that took over his body, rapidly leaving it paralyzed, and in great pain. He had nodules on his body, which indicated a malignancy (cancer), but his doctors weren’t able to help him. He did his own research.

He knew he had adrenal exhaustion. Adrenal exhaustion occurs often when the body has been under stress for too long a time without a break. Adrenal glands secrete adrenalin, but if there is no let up in the stress, it may secrete less. That’s when people kick up the coffee or Red Bull, which stimulates the adrenals more, but eventually they need a rest.

Also, he’d taken a trip to the Soviet Union and his room was on the second floor. He believed that his weakened condition prevented him from processing the exhaust from the diesel trucks that permeated his room. His doctor said that his symptoms were similar to heavy metal poisoning.

He also studied a book by Hans Selye that spoke about how the body reacts to stress, fear, frustration, and suppressed rage, causing biochemical reactions that produce negative symptoms. So he thought that if he lived a life of positive emotions, the effects on his body would be positive.

Cousins logically considered that if negative emotions could create negative symptoms, perhaps positive emotions could create positive symptoms. The positive emotions that he identified were love, hope, faith, and laughter. He decided to leave the hospital where he believed he could practice more positivity. He had plenty of love and hope, but decided to explore laughter. He acquired the funniest films he could rent, and discovered that 10 minutes of good belly laughter would give him two hours of pain free sleep. He got rid of the painkillers, codeine and 36 aspirin he was taking a day, and found that the laughter did produce a “natural anesthesia.” His doctor encouraged him. The Marx Brothers comedies were some of his favorites.

Secondly, his doctor began to give him an IV drip of 10,000 units of vitamin C, which was increased, and within eight days he was able to move his thumbs without pain. He lived years longer than his doctors predicted, as he also had heart problems!

“Therapeutic humor is any intervention [action taken to improve a situation] that promotes health and wellness by stimulating a playful discovery, expression or appreciation of the absurdity … of life’s situations.” It is used to enhance health. Their mission is to serve as the community of professionals who study, practice, and promote healthy humor and laughter (www.aath.org).

The AATH website offers a humor resource page, which is then broken down into different subjects such as humor and aging, humor and health, laughter, smiling and play, humor and grief, the business place and more. Each of those sites has many books on its humor subject.

These days we can go to the Internet and find laughter videos! Here is one of a woman on a subway car, who listens to something on her phone, gets laughing, and it spreads throughout the whole car, even when she’s done.

You can Google funny baby videos, funny cat videos, all kinds of videos. It’s just wonderful that laughter is so contagious. If you have access to a computer check them out. The funniest video I have ever watched is at Skype Laughter Chain.com. It starts with a baby laughing. That video is Skyped to another person who watches it, and it triggers him laughing. That is Skyped down a chain, and I tell you, the people that they film watching them is hilarious. They have some unique laughter, and it cracks me up every time. It’s an Rx for sure!

There is also a TV show that can get a little naughty, but has more laughs per minute than any other show I’ve found. It’s called “Whose Line is it Anyway.” It’s on the CW channel Fridays at 7:30 p.m. Several years ago, Drew Carey used to host it, and there are several segments you can watch on YouTube if you don’t have a TV. Google “Whose Line: Best of Laughter.” There are three parts to it, as well as others to watch.

If you’re taking things too seriously, it’s too hard to feel happy. Yes, there is pain, sickness, violence, greed, etc. in the world. Will your pain, anger, and unhappiness about it help it? It will just add to the negative energy in the world.

Do what you are led to do to make a difference, and remember that Norman Cousins included hope and faith in his list of positive feelings. Have faith that goodness and kindness will prevail. It’s a lot easier to be kind if you are feeling happy, and it is also true that doing an act of kindness can make you feel better.

I am quoting the following abstract about laughter from the Royal Society Publishing company website:

“Although laughter forms an important part of human non-verbal communication, it has received rather less attention than it deserves in both the experimental and the observational literatures. Relaxed social (Duchenne) laughter is associated with feelings of well-being and heightened affect, a proximate explanation for which might be the release of endorphins. We tested this hypothesis in a series of six experimental studies in both the laboratory (watching videos) and naturalistic contexts (watching stage performances), using change in pain threshold as an assay for endorphin release. The results show that pain thresholds are significantly higher after laughter than in the control condition. This pain-tolerance effect is due to laughter itself and not simply due to a change in positive affect. We suggest that laughter, through an endorphin-mediated opiate effect, may play a crucial role in social bonding.”

And the last bit of research I’ll share is from the Smithsonian’s website. The article highlights a scientific experiment where 129 college students were given somewhat stressful tasks to do while they held chopsticks in their mouths that forced them to physically demonstrate a neutral, normal smiling, or Duchenne (smiling with eyes and lips) smiling expression. Well, you know what I’m going to share. The smilers’ heart rates were lower, indicating less stress than those who had a neutral pose.

What this means is that people can make themselves feel better just by making a smiley face! And if the eyes are included, it’s even better.

Not only that, but smiling signals so much to others. I’ve noticed that my 7-month-old granddaughter looks at people she knows and trusts before she attempts a new task or taste. Our smiles signify that it’s OK for her to try it. Smiles also reassure others that things are OK with us. If someone steps on my foot, and I smile back at them, I can see their relief, and a negative situation is diffused. People are just more likely to follow or listen to someone who is smiling. Observe. Be your own scientist.

So Happy Days to you, and remember that happiness makes you feel better. Find out what makes you happy, but don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

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Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org

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