Laughter: A New Prescription for Good Health

We can all think of a friend or a movie (or both if we are lucky enough) that make us laugh. But absent those automatic triggers, how often do you laugh?

Actor Carl Reiner was interviewed about a year before he died, and the answer was “daily.” He was 98 at the time of his death, but we think he was on to something.

pink flamingos face to face“There is no doubt about it,” he said in a 2019 Washington Post interview. “Laughter is my first priority. I watch something every night that makes me laugh. I wake up and tickle myself while I’m still in bed. There is no greater pleasure than pointing at something, smiling and laughing about it. I don’t think there is anything more important than being able to laugh. When you can laugh, life is worth living. It keeps me going. It keeps me young.” Reiner was 97 at the time of the interview.

According to comedian Paul Osincup, a past president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH), you don’t have to be a comedian to laugh more. “Humor is not a talent, it’s a habit,” he says. He suggests not worrying about being clever or funny, but instead to get in the habit of seeing humor in everyday situations.

Research Shows that Laughter can Keep You Healthy

Laughter can also keep you healthy, according to the Mayo Clinic. Research has found both short and long-term benefits: Laughter can increase oxygen to the heart, lungs and muscles, increase the endorphins that are released by your brain, improve your mood and reduce physical pain.

So how can you add a daily laughter pill (or two) to your diet? With Netflix and other streaming sites, watching funny movies is a lot easier than it was for writer Norman Cousins 50 years ago. Battling a crippling disease, Cousins watched “Candid Camera,” Marx Brothers and other funny films and found that 10 minutes of deep belly laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep.  “Each patient carries his own doctor inside him,” he wrote in his 1979 bestseller “Anatomy of an Illness.”

An international movement called Laughter Yoga has introduced laughter exercises to millions through clubs, workshops and YouTube videos. The program is guided by four elements: clapping, breathing exercises, childlike playfulness and laughing exercises.

Laughter guru Dr. Madan Kataria says all can benefit from Laugher Yoga, especially older adults, college students, and people with cancer and depression.

Kendal at Oberlin’s Silliness Committee Encourages Laughter

Kendal at Oberlin has a “silliness” committee to encourage laughter among residents. “Trying to be kind to those who are humor challenged, the committee works to enliven foolish consistency and to stimulate creativity and imagination in unusual ways,” according to the committee.

Membership is anonymous and the silliness committee never meets. Its goal? To bring smiles to resident faces on birthdays, while recovering from illness and for just about any other reason. Pink flamingoes, fake flowers and other props show up on resident lawns and elsewhere.

Kendal at Oberlin residents like to have fun. Just ask anyone on the Lawn Chair Drill Team… (more about that later).

This article was first published July 23, 2019, and updated April 28, 2023. Story written by Molly Kavanaugh.