HAYDEN HOLLINGSWORTH: Laugh for the Health of It

Hayden Hollingsworth

What a depressing and stressful time in which we live!  There seems to be so much about which to be upset.  The strain of it all is very wearying and it’s time to flip the coin and look at the brighter side of things.

Many decades ago, Reader’s Digest had a section every month entitled “Laughter is the Best Medicine” which was a couple of pages of amusing anecdotes.  No one gave serious thought that there was any truth to that but it was one of the most read sections in every issue.

In 1964 Norman Cousins, a world-famous journalist came down with a mysterious illness which challenged his physicians.  Soon Cousins became total frustrated with the morass of medical testing and the lack of progress to which he was being subjected.  He signed himself out of the hospital, checked into a hotel and decided the best treatment would be humor.  He played old Marx brothers’ movies, cartoons, The Three Stooges, and similar laughter-producing items.

To everyone’s amazement, he not only improved, but he recovered from the ravages of ankylosing spondylitis and devoted the rest of his life to the positive affect of laughter on health.  His book, The Anatomy of an Illness, is a classic and the first well-thought out treatise on how laughter improves health.  The literature on the subject is voluminous and widely accepted.

That laughter evokes positive physiological response has spread throughout the world leading to the development of Laughter Clubs.  There are countless such groups composed of people who meet and induce laughter in a variety of ways.  It sounds—well—laughable but not when one catalogues the benefits of laughter, either spontaneous or induced.

There are data to show that humor relieves stress, depression, anxiety, strengthens the immune system, reduces pain, improves breathing, increases oxygen to the brain, dilates blood vessels, improves circulation, and helps regulate blood pressure.  The only adverse side effect might be sore abdominal muscles from belly laughs.

To get a sense of how pervasive is this idea, just go online and search “laughter clubs.”  There are thousands of them and the hotbed of humor seems to be in, of all places, India.  A perfectly reasonable sounding gentleman by the name of Madan Kataria introduces an eight minute video that will surprise and astonish, amuse and challenge, and most assuredly make you at least smile.

A trip to Mumbai is not necessary for we have right here in Roanoke a Laughter Lab.  Founded by Dr. Bill Baker it meets the first Monday of the month at the SW County Library at 6:30 (July’s meeting will be the 10th because of the holiday the first Monday).  His laughter Lab is assisted by Kyle Edgell, a well-known professional caricaturist.

I have known Bill Baker since the 1950s and he could make anyone smile, even then.  In the ensuing years he has amassed a critical amount non-laughable material ranging from Dean of Students at the University of Richmond, a military chaplain for a decade, to a near life-ending accident that led him to his laughter work. He is currently writing a book on “Jollyology,” conducting yoga classes, and giving motivational speeches.  His exuberance has not dimmed from our high school days.

What does all this mean?  Is it more than meets the ear? If you listen to Madan Kataria, you certainly will give this concept some thought. The underlying principle of the Indian clubs is one of promoting peace; not only peace of individual minds, but a worldwide sense of peace.

If Cousins and Kataria are right, as odd as it might seem, it certainly is worth a try.  It surely can’t make our current miasma worse.

Hayden Hollingsworth

Latest Articles

Latest Articles

Related Articles