The Laughter Prescription for Pain Relief
The Laughter Prescription for Pain ReliefOctober 16th, 2018 by Cindy Perlin
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I can hear you saying. “I’m on tons of pain medication and it barely makes a dent in my pain, and you’re telling me to laugh? For pain relief?” Well, yes.
Forty-one years ago I hurt my back running. It started as a mild nagging pain but escalated after a few months into agonizing, life disrupting pain 24/7. I had to drop out of graduate school and for the next 3 ½ years my life went downhill from there. Doctors had no effective answers and offered no hope.
Three and a half years later, when I was in the depths of despair, a friend suggested that I read a book Anatomy of An Illness by Norman Cousins. Cousins had been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful and progressively crippling joint disease. His doctors held out almost no hope of recovery. They told him his pain would increase and he would get progressively more crippled until he died. Cousins was a highly educated man who was the editor of the now defunct but highly respected Saturday Review. Unhappy with his doctor’s prognosis, he decided to do his own research and develop his own program for healing.
Cousins came up with a two-pronged approach. He kept reading that the will to live was very important. He decided that what made life worth living for him was laughter. He also read that vitamin C was important for connective tissue.
Cousins checked himself out of the hospital, which was too depressing, and rented a movie projector. It was the 1950s, pre-internet, VCRs and DVD players. He employed massive doses of Charlie Chaplin, WC Fields and other funny movies of the day. He surrounded himself with funny people. He called it laughter therapy. He discovered that for every 10 minutes of belly laughs he could get an hour of pain free sleep. Over time, he completely healed his condition and resumed a full life.
Cousins’ book made a big impression on me. I had been staying in bed watching the Holocaust miniseries and reading novels about World War II and Nazi atrocities. I decided to change my mental diet to more uplifting and positive material, including humor. Cousins mentioned biofeedback as a way of learning to control your thoughts and mental state as a way of controlling your physiology. I sought out a biofeedback therapist. Over a short time, I also healed and resumed a full life.
Research has now shown that laughter causes physiological changes in the body that are directly related to pain relief. Among the most important findings is that when we laugh, our bodies produce endorphins, the body’s own natural painkillers. There is a dose/response relationship—the more we laugh, the more pain relief we get. And, unlike with prescriptions opioids, there is no such thing as an overdose.
Today it’s much easier to find a good laugh than in Cousins’ day. We have the internet, cable TV, satellite radio, downloadable books—all easily accessible, inexpensive access to laughs at the touch of our fingertips. Try it! It can’t hurt!