by Paul McGhee
You’ve heard all the sound bites about humor and health on radio and television over the years, but how do humor and laughter really boost your health and well being? This book provides a very readable (but in-depth) discussion of the latest research on the health and coping benefits of humor and the areas of the brain involved in understanding and enjoying humor. References to the original research are included.
The first chapter (134 pages) discusses experimental and other forms of research documenting humor’s effectiveness in boosting emotional resilience and coping with stress. Other topics include the impact of humor on marriage, spirituality, happiness and life-satisfaction, along with the use of humor in real-life high-stress situations (e.g., among cancer patients and hospital staff, and in natural disasters and other emergency situations, in war and among prisoners of war). The specific mechanisms via which humor helps you cope are also discussed.
The second chapter (118 pages) discusses the first wave of research showing humor’s ability to reduce pain and strengthen the immune system and then discusses the newest (current) research evidence documenting a positive impact of humor and laughter on specific disease conditions, including asthma, COPD, rheumatoid arthritis, certain skin allergies, diabetes and coronary heart disease. Evidence of the impact of humor and laughter upon gene expression is also discussed. Changes in the body associated with positive emotion play a key role in causing the health and healing benefits of humor. All of the research on humor and health is linked to the broader field of psychoneuroimmunology, which points to the key role of positive emotion in promoting good health. Humor is noted as one of the quickest and most effective tools we have to boost positive emotion,
The final chapter discusses the latest evidence of the brain’s involvement in understanding and enjoying (reward or pleasure centers in the brain are activated in response to humor) humor. Considerable attention is given to the different roles of the right and left cerebral hemispheres in humor.
Partial Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Humor and Resilience
Your sense of humor: The secret ingredient for making lemonade
The mounting stress of everyday life
– Impact of stress on health
The growing need for emotional resilience
Does stress happen to you? Or do you create it?
Evidence that humor builds resilience and helps you cope
– Distinction between genuine and non-genuine laughter
– The chicken/egg dilemma: Which comes first, a good sense of humor or psychological well-being?
Research on positive emotion in general
How does humor help you cope?
– Emotion-focused vs. problem-focused coping
– Substitution of a positive emotion that is incompatible with stress
– Physiological undoing
– The relaxation response (tension release)
– More accurate and positive appraisal of stressful situations
– Maintenance of perspective on problems
– Increased sense of control
– Increased energy/decreased burnout
– Stronger social support network
Which is more important, humor or laughter?
Again, emotional resilience is the key to good mental health
Are you born with/without a sense of humor? Can it be developed as an adult?
– The role of temperament
Use of humor by therapists
Humor and spirituality
Humor and happiness/life satisfaction
Chapter 2. Humor and Physical Health
The popular and academic humor and health movements: Origins and influences
– Early academic resistance to humor research
– The impact of Normal Cousins: The Sputnik of mind-body research
– Emergence of psychoneuroimmunology
– Rethinking the placebo effect: Early clues regarding the impact of mind and emotion on health
– Dr. Bernie Siegel’s “exceptional cancer patients”
– The emergence of “laughter clubs”
The first wave: General health-promoting effects of humor and laughter
– Pain reduction
– Strengthening of the immune system
– Lower sedimentation rate
– Reduction of the health-damaging effects of stress
– Better social network
The second wave: Impact of humor and laughter on specific diseases
– Coronary heart disease
– Pulmonary health
Impact of humor and laughter upon gene expression
Do people with a good sense of humor get sick less often?
– Does humor increase longevity?
The humor-in-hospitals movement
– Using humor to promote positive doctor/nurse-patient interaction
– Types of hospital humor programs
– Impact on patient outcomes
Chapter 3. Humor and the Brain
Understanding humor: Will the funny hemisphere please light up?
– Humor deficits in brain-damaged individuals
– Humor in the healthy brain
– The importance of communication between the two hemispheres
– Rapid alternation between left and right brain processing
– Creating humor: A better test of the role of complexity in RB specialization
– Which hemisphere explains why it’s funny?
The functional and structural basis for the right brain’s special role in complex humor
– Right brain functions
– Right brain anatomy/structure
Enjoying humor: Why it feels so good
– Additional sources of pleasure via the dopamine reward system
– Influences on degree of reward system activation