Articles on Health and Humor

by Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D.

Use Your Amuse System to Boost Your Immune System: Humor Your Tumor

"The art of medicine consists of keeping the patient amused while nature heals the disease."  Voltaire

A managed care consultant dies and goes to Heaven. Frankly, he can’t believe his good fortune in being there, given the life he has led. But St. Peter checks the records and says, “There’s no mistake, you’re supposed to be here. See, it says right here that you are scheduled for Heaven...and you’re authorized for three days.”

Physicians and researchers have long known that stress weakens the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illness.  Only in the mid-1980s, however, did researchers begin to study the positive impact of humor and laughter on the immune system.  Your sense of humor provides a powerful antidote to immunosuppressive effects of stress in two ways: through 1) indirect effects resulting from humor's ability to help you cope on the tough days (minimizing or eliminating the negative impact of stress on the immune system), and 2) direct positive effects upon the immune system, and. In this article, we'll focus only on the direct immunoenhancement effects of humor. (Read More...) (Download as PDF) (back to top)

Laughter: Prescription for Pain Reduction

"A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast."   (Groucho Marx)

A nurse once told me of a Methodist minister who had been in a serious accident and had to spend several weeks in the hospital. He had a lot of pain, and was given shots to reduce it. The procedure was always the same. When the pain got bad enough, he would ring a buzzer near his bed, and a nurse would soon come to give him the shot. One day, he rang for the nurse and then rolled over on his side (with his back to the door), pulled his hospital gown up over his exposed backside, and waited for the nurse to come in. When he heard the door open, he pointed to his right bare buttock and said, "Why don't you give me the shot right here this time?"

After a few moments of silence, he looked up. It was a woman from his church!  The minister—realizing what he had done—started laughing. He laughed so hard that tears were coming out of his eyes when the nurse arrived. When he tried to explain what had happened, he began laughing even harder. (Read More...) (Download as PDF) (back to top)

Emotion: The Key to the Mind's Influence on Health

"This I believe to be the chemical function of humor: to change the character of our thought."  (Lin Yutang)

"The chemicals that are running our body and our brain are the same chemicals that are involved in emotion. And that says to me that . . . we'd better pay more attention to emotions with respect to health."  (Candace Pert)

Candace Pert, one of the most respected researchers in the area of mind/body medicine, noted in Bill Moyers' Healing and the Mind television series (in the 1990s) that emotions, registered and stored in the body in the form of chemical messages are the best candidates for the key to the health connection between mind and body. It is through the emotions you experience in connection with your thoughts and daily attitudes—actually, through the neurochemical changes that accompany these emotions—that your mind acquires the power to influence whether you get sick or remain well. (Read More...) (Download as PDF) (back to top)

Impact of Positive Emotion on Survival

"The simple truth is that happy people generally don't get sick."  (Bernie Siegel, MD)

"Laughter in and of itself cannot cure cancer nor prevent cancer, but laughter as part of the full range of positive emotions including hope, love, faith, strong will to live, determination and purpose, can be a significant and indispensable aspect of the total fight for recovery."  (Harold H. Benjamin, PhD) 

In the previous article, we discussed research which suggests that one's emotional state influences the body's biochemistry in a manner that can either promote good health, or interfere with it. But is there any evidence that emotions can actually have an impact on survival? Can a persistent positive or negative frame of mind influence whether you live or die in a battle against cancer or other diseases? If so, this provides all the motivation you need to begin making an effort to develop humor (and other) skills which help you manage your mood on a day-to-day basis. (Read More...) (Download as PDF) (back to top)

Impact of Negative Emotion on Survival

"Those who get sick the most seem to view the world and their lives as unmanageable."   (Blair Justice, PhD)      

In the previous article, positive emotion and a hopeful, optimistic outlook were shown to boost your chances of surviving your cancer. It should come as no surprise, then, that negative emotion has the opposite effect.

We all have days where we feel down, but the impact on your health depends on how often you're depressed and how extreme the level of depression is. In one study, a group of middle-aged adults were given a test of depression. Those who died of cancer within the next 17 years were twice as likely to have had high depression scores 17 years earlier than those who developed no cancer at all. (Read More...) (Download as PDF) (back to top)

Using Humor to Cope Part 1: Laughing in the Midst of Stress

"Gentlemen, why don't you laugh? With the fearful strain that is upon me day and night, if I did not laugh I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do."      (Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War)

"If it weren't for the brief respite we give the world with our foolishness, the world would see mass suicide in numbers that compare favorably with the death rate of lemmings."               (Groucho Marx) 

In the book, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson in the film) says, "When you lose your sense of humor, you lose your footing." Another character says about McMurphy, "He knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you, just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy." (Read More...) (Download as PDF) (back to top)

Using Humor to Cope Part 2: Humor in Concentration/POW Camps

"I would never have made it if I could not have laughed. Laughing lifted me momentarily . . . out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable . . . survivable."                            (Victor Frankl)

"Humor, more than anything else in the human makeup, affords an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds."    (Victor Frankl) 

Bill Cosby once said, "If you can find humor in anything, you can survive it." Can we really survive anything emotionally if we can keep our sense of humor about it? The ultimate test of this would seem to have been the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. Surely, there was no room for humor in the camps. And yet, psychiatrist Victor Frankl, a prisoner in the camps himself, noted in his book, Man's Search for Meaning, that humor was one of the things that helped people survive in the camps. Finding things to laugh at helped maintain a sense of meaning and purpose in life—even as prisoners saw others dying all around them. (Read More...) (Download as PDF) (back to top)