Professionals, friends prove therapeutic value of humor

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Mark Twain wrote: “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”

He also wrote: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

Many years ago — I don’t remember how long, 30 years, maybe — I read an article about a famous author (Norman Cousins, perhaps?) who was dying of cancer. The point of his article had to do with the healing power of laughter.

His treatment of choice was to laugh. He gathered a collection of Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and Marx Brothers films and spent hours every day watching them and laughing at their silliness. He was convinced of the efficacy of humor as medicine. It didn’t cure his cancer, but it made him feel better, I think.

All that goofy slapstick of Larry, Shemp, and Moe (and sometimes Curly); the witty word-play of Groucho with his trademark greasepaint moustache and his stooped walk, Harpo with his miming and red fright wig and his taxi-cab horn, Chico with his fake Italian accent, Zeppo with his cheesy romantic personna, and Gummo as the straight man; and the constant comic bickering and bumbling of Stan and Ollie were his medicine.

It’s not so hard to believe. A lot has been written about the health benefits of humor and laughter. They bring vigor to our existence in addition to bringing joy to our lives.

Some doctors believe that the act of laughing can activate our will to live and increase our ability to fight disease. I looked it up: Laughing has been found to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, increase muscle flexion, and boost immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being.

Laughing can give our hearts a workout (Have you ever laughed so hard you’re tired?), relax us, and make us feel better. I read a story about a study at the University of Maryland that suggested a good sense of humor and our ability to laugh at tough situations may even help protect us from coronary heart disease.

Whether we believe these medical studies or not, it seems pretty obvious that humor is good for us. Even the laughter of others is good for us. Laughter is contagious. It’s infectious. It’s almost impossible to be with a good laugher and not laugh ourselves. That’s what I always loved about my good friend Bob: He was a great laugher, even when he was seriously ill. I loved being with him.

Even looking forward to having a good laugh can can make you feel better. Our son Chris is a great laugher. He usually carries around on his iPhone clips of comedy skits from Saturday Night Live or stand-up routines. Just thinking about watching them again sends Chris into giggles. Anticipation is half, or two-thirds, the fun, and it’s fun to watch him watch them.

My opinion: Humor makes work easier. Teachers who can make their students laugh are frequently more successful than those whose classes are serious and humorless. My old friend, David Proctor, was living proof of that. Preachers who can make their congregations laugh can make them feel better — even improve their spirituality. I loved working with my dad because he had a great sense of humor. The drudgery of farm work was somehow lightened by his wit and attitude.

Mark Twain again: “Humor is the great thing, the saving thing, after all. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments flit away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.”

So get out there and do your part. Laugh. And make somebody else laugh. It’s good for you, and it’s good for them.

Contact Roger VanHaren at