Is laughter truly the best medicine?


Henri Bergson was a French philosopher who wrote a remarkably unfunny essay on laughter. In the essay, Bergson reached three notable conclusions. One, laughter is human; meaning, we will laugh at the things other humans say or do. Two, laughter requires cerebral detachment. It’s funny when someone else slips on a banana peel. Three, laughter is social. It’s an ice-breaker; it’s a nervous response; it builds camaraderie and community.

Studies have proven that laughter is, indeed, the best medicine. Laughter is also good for the cardiovascular system. A University of Maryland study found that people with heart disease laughed 40 percent less than people of their age who didn’t have heart disease. Of course, diet and exercise factor into any study of heart disease and the study did not address either factor.

Uncontrollable laughter can cause physical damage

BMJ, a medical website, published an article in 2013 warning of the hazards associated with excessive laughter. It should be noted that the site is known for its tongue-and-cheek approach to holiday content — and this article went live at Christmas. For instance, in the Abstract conclusion, the authors write, “Laughter is not purely beneficial. The harms it can cause are immediate and dose related, the risks being highest for Homeric — uncontrollable — laughter. The benefit-harm balance is probably favorable. It remains to be seen whether sick jokes make you ill or jokes in bad taste cause dysgeusia, and whether our views on comedians stand up to further scrutiny.”

But if the BMJ authors are to be believed, they were remarkably thorough in their research. The writers contend they searched the medical databases Medline and Embase from 1946 and 1973, respectively, up to 2013 for information on laughter removing or excluding “…animal studies and conference reports, and excluding papers on the Caribbean sponge “Prosuberites laughlini” and with authors called Laughing, Laughter, Laughton, or McLaughlin; none was particularly amusing.”

The study found laughter has the following benefits: psychological, cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic, obstetric, immunological, and otorhinolaryngological — in layman’s terms it’s good for the ears, nose and throat. But laughter can also cause syncope — fainting. “Syncope after laughing has accompanied bilateral carotid stenosis in Takayasu arteritis. Laughing can cause conduction anomalies and arrhythmias. A woman with Long QT syndrome, a heart rhythm disorder, and a history of Torsade de pointes took ziprasidone, collapsed, and died after intense sustained laughter. Laughter in Angelman’s “happy puppet” syndrome can cause asystolic arrest, apparently of vagal origin. Laughing fit to burst can cause cardiac rupture.”

Laughter poses risks to the central nervous system. “Cataplexy, often allied to narcolepsy, is characterized by sudden loss of muscle tone provoked by laughter and other stimuli. It is apparently difficult to elicit during medical consultations, perhaps because ‘laughing by itself’ is a much less powerful stimulus than ‘laughing excitedly.’” This dry definition addresses a serious condition. Cataplexy, in extreme cases, mirrors a stroke by affecting the muscles on one side of the body.

A good belly laugh might not be good at all. “A good belly laugh can make a hernia protrude, aiding diagnosis in children — rapture unmasking rupture. By contrast, failure to laugh is an important sign of intra-abdominal infection in children. Laughter is an unusual precipitant of Boerhaave’s syndrome —  spontaneous esophageal perforation.”

In the final analysis, laughter is good for you

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” Despite the above dire possibilities, medical professionals agree with Shakespeare that laughter improves mental and physical well-being. lists some of the reasons why laughter continues to be the best medicine:

1. Laughing for 10 to 15 minutes raises energy expenditure, increases heart rate, and can burn up to 40 calories.

2. Laughing increases positive endorphins, reduces stress and strengthens the immune system.

3. Humor improves communication, creativity and overall performance in the workplace.

4. Watching just 15 minutes of a comedy show can alleviate worries about health or career. This in turn increases feelings of self-worth, which makes overcoming obstacles even easier

5. Therapists who laugh with their clients increase feelings of connection and bonding.

If you son does not laugh

Teenagers and young adults run the gamut of the emotional spectrum, from petulance to moodiness to anger to exuberance. This is normal. What isn’t normal is for a young man to be without laughter or joy in his life. A young person who cannot laugh at himself and the world around him is most likely dealing with other — possibly serious — issues. If your son cannot find joy in his life, it is important to find out why.

White River Academy is a residential boarding school located at the cuff of the monumental Great Basin in Delta, Utah. White River focuses on treating young men with addiction and mental health disorders. We offer regimented, competitive and innovative curriculum to set your son up for success in whichever path he chooses hereafter.

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