By Dr. Kevin Soden
“You don’t stop laughing because you get old. You get old because you stop laughing.” – Anonymous
There is a great deal of wisdom in that saying because we do need to learn to laugh at life especially in these very difficult times. At some instinctual level, the connection between humor and health has been known for thousands of years and is universal to our nature. No matter what civilization or culture you go to in this world, you can always find medicine men or healers but what surprises most people is that every one of these cultures has also had persons to help them laugh.
The ancient Greeks would visit the “Home of the Comedians” to improve their health, while the Romans had funny men as a part of their efforts to help people feel better. The American Indians not only had a medicine man as a part of every tribe but also had a tribe clown. The royal courts of England always had court jesters to help the refined ladies and gentlemen take their minds off of their problems. Humor was and is an essential part of our natures.
Despite our best efforts, life throws us curveballs and we have to deal with them whether we like it or not. Researchers have studied people who were thrown into some of life’s worst situations – natural disasters, wartime, concentration camps and serious unexpected health problems like cancer. They found four common characteristics among those that survived these problems better than others. They were:
- Altruistic – Cared about the welfare of others
- Drew support from family, friends and community
- Prayed to a Higher Power
- Had a sense of humor.
Let’s face it. We can’t escape certain life situations so we have to learn how to deal with them and humor is one of our best coping mechanisms. It’s hard to believe there can be anything funny about cancer, but humor is a tool that many use to help themselves and their families. There are books and websites for those dealing with cancer that help them look at the lighter side of their condition. (See www.planetcancer.org) Humor helps to put family and friends of cancer patients at ease by letting them know that it’s all right to laugh.
Research has proven that the benefits seen with laughing are comparable to that seen with exercise, but without the stress and strain on your muscles. Here are some other proven benefits of laughter:
- Reduces the risk of heart attacks
- Decreases blood pressure
- Improves the healing power of the immune system
- Reduces stress
- Decreases our risk of dying from heart failure
We never know what life is going to throw at us, but the one thing that we can be sure of is that there will be ups and downs. The key for all of us is not to let life keep us down, but to do our best to get back up on our feet again. We can’t let the blues get us down and keep us down…or the joy will be taken from our lives. Like Letterman’s Top 10, here are Soden’s Top 10 list of ways to get rid of the blues:
Top 10 Ways to Get Rid of the Blues
- Call a loved one.
- Look at pictures that make you smile.
- Watch a comedy tape or funny movie
- Read a good book
- Spend time with children
- Spend time with people who are happy
- Smile at people you don’t know
- Do something silly
- Visit someone in the hospital and realize your blessings.
One special bit of advice for all those who want to get more humor in their life…Avoid all people who use any or all of the following phrases: “Grow up”; “Wipe that stupid smile off your face”; “Act your age”; or “Get serious.” They are negative people, and will drain the humor from your body in an instant.
Remember the saying, “Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly.” We all need to do the same.