The “Laughter Factor”

The “Laughter Factor”

by Karyn Buxman, MSN, CSP, CPAE

Life must be lived as play. Plato

Ed Shanks shifts his weight, getting comfortable in the Lazy-Boy while the nurse adjusts the drip rate of his chemotherapy. He picks up the remote control and flips on the video tape he has chosen, “The Best of Laurel and Hardy.” Sound appropriate? Sure is. Is it beneficial? You bet. Patients of all kinds are discovering the numerous healthy benefits of humor and laughter.

Benefits of Laughter: Scientists are now finding evidence to support what most of us have suspected all along: that humor and laughter are good for you. William Fry, PhD, of Stanford University in California and one of the leading researchers in the field of humor physiology, states that humor, mirth and laughter have an impact on most, if not all, of the major human body systems.

While Ed is laughing at Laurel and Hardy, what’s going on in his body? During his laughter, Ed’s heart is exercised by an increased heart rate and blood pressure that is then followed by a relaxation phase. This in turn, results in improved circulation. In Ed’s gastrointestinal system, the muscles involved in the act of laughter massage internal organs resulting in enhanced digestion. In the respiratory system, laughter enhances the intake of oxygen-rich air. When Ed laughs, he inhales more deeply and then forcefully exhales air at rates up to 70 MPH!

Ed doesn’t experience muscle tension during the moments he is laughing. In Ed’s musculo-skeletal system, his muscles are stimulated and then become relaxed. This explains why individuals frequently lean over or hold on to something during a robust laugh, becoming “weak with laughter.”

Dr. Fry likens the effects of laughter to physical exercise. While laughing may not compare episode for episode with marathon running or swimming, it doesn’t require a specific time block or equipment. This makes it especially appealing to those who are home bound or confined to a bed or wheel chair.

Obstacles: Despite the fact that clinical evidence supports making humor and laughter part of the health regimen, many people are reluctant to take the plunge. This occurs for several reasons. One is that laughter and play are undervalued in our culture. According to Dr. O. Carl Simonton, medical director of the Simonton Cancer Center and co-author of The Healing Journey, some patients and their families have been scolded for having a good time. They risk hearing comments such as, “You aren’t taking your illness seriously enough” or “How can you enjoy yourself when your loved one is dying?” And yet play is one of the key components to the healing process.

Many folks want to put off playing until they feel better. But it is important to note that you shouldn’t wait until you feel better to play; you play and then feel better. Simonton says that play helps shift our perspective, increases our flexibility, raises our energy levels, boosts our will and desire to live, and moves our body in a healthy direction.

Getting Started: What can you do to increase your “laughter factor”? To start with, give yourself permission to laugh. Recognize that laughing is beneficial for you and your loved ones and that you’re taking positive steps toward an action plan for better health.

Make a conscious effort to put humor into your daily routine. At the Simonton Institute, patients are encouraged to strive for one hour of play per day, seven days a week. This includes weekends, holidays and vacations. As an exercise, Simonton has his patients list 40 activities, half of which cost less than $5 each. He explains that it’s important to have a long list of options, because when you need play the most may be when you have the hardest time thinking of something fun to do.

Keep props handy. Visit a toy department and buy yourself a toy all your own. Koosh Balls are a great place to start. They are bright colored, have a stimulating texture, and can be used for a variety of things including juggling.

Start keeping a humor diary of things you find funny, whether they are jokes, anecdotes, signs, memos, license plates, or cartoons. Then refer to this diary on the days when your energy and spirits are sagging. Start your own collection of humorous books, tapes, and videos.

Look into organizations that promote therapeutic humor such as The American Association for Therapeutic Humor and The Fellowship of Merry Christians. They provide periodic newsletters that are available at relatively low cost to keep you abreast of the latest developments in this fast growing field.

Make a contract with yourself to incorporate some type of humor into your life immediately and on a regular basis. Unintentional humor is terrific when it happens, but humor has too many benefits to let it happen by chance.


Copyright 2005 by Karyn Buxman. Reprinted with permission. Buxman is a highly sought humorist and nationally recognized expert in therapeutic humor, Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, CSP, CPAE helps people achieve balance through stress management techniques, including humor. To sign up for her free bi-weekly e-zine, LyteBytes, e-mail or visit