Sunday, December 6, 2009


Norman Cousins wrote Anatomy of an Illness about his mysterious wasting sickness and his own participation in trying to get rid of it.  He felt the hospital was not helping him.  Too many interruptions while he was trying to sleep, checking his vital signs too often, too somber, too bleak.  He checked into a hotel.  He felt good laughter was what he needed and arranged to watch his favorite funny movies for a couple of hours a day.  He did much better with that routine.

The American physician Patch Adams, played in the movie of that name by Robin Williams, sought to introduce laughter and merriment into hospital and medical routine.

Today, the Mind Hacks blog reports that clowns did better than drugs at lowering anxiety in children aged 3-8 as they prepped for an operation.

We have participated in group yoga sessions of hearty, deliberate laughter.  We felt ill at ease at hearty laughter when there was nothing funny but even we got into the spirit of group to some extent when the laughing had continued for long enough.

Laughing can be individual and cognitive, that is, based on ideas.  Of course, it is emotional and seems to represent a kind of intersection of our emotional cognitive selves, as when a joke ends with a punch line that surprises and delights us.  But laughter is also social.  I didn't like hearing that since I felt I was too independent a thinker to be put into a mood of humor by others' laughter.  Or, I thought I wanted to be.  However, I've been watching myself and I see that the laugh tracks of tv comedies and group laughter in a party or meeting does affect me. I wouldn't be surprised it the effect is positive, even when I doubt it or resent it at the moment.

So, the next time I make a movie about tough cowboys, I will not have the wounded hero take a sip of whiskey just before his buddy sets about removing the slug from his shoulder.  He and his buddy and the rest of the posse will begin hearty and rigorous laughter so he can achieve an altered state of merriment and lowered consciousness of pain and fear.

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