By Lisa Mark, C.P.O.
When I was in the throes of my illness a friend dropped by a pile of books for me to read. She told me, ‘Read the Bryson book first so you can laugh a little bit. It’ll be good for you.’ I don’t remember if I ignored her or didn’t hear her but I immediately dove into ‘The Color of Water’ by James McBride. This incredible memoir was both sad and serious. I cried my way through the next few days as I read the book.
I was already spending a lot of time crying and really could have used a laugh. When I finished The Color of Water, I pondered the rest of the books in the pile my friend had left me and settled on Bill Bryson’s ‘A Walk in the Woods,’ a hilarious autobiography detailing the author’s attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. I laughed my way through the book and found, to my surprise, that although I was still terribly sick, laughter brought a sense of well-being that I hadn’t yet experienced during my illness.
As I travel through my journey with illness, I discover that there are actually centers that research the effect of laughter and psychological well-being on healing. One of them, the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, was founded by author Norman Cousins after he was diagnosed with a particularly painful type of arthritis. During the course of his illness, he noticed that spending some time watching funny movies improved the way he felt and even enabled him to sleep for a few hours despite debilitating pain.
From the Cousins Center website:
“Science is beginning to uncover some of what happens inside the body in response to laughter. Laughter Researcher[s have] found, in clinical studies, that laughter has positive effects on the neuroendocrine-immune axis by reducing some classic stress hormones.”
There is even such a thing as ‘laughter therapy.’ And truth to that old adage: laughter is the best medicine. So despite illness being no laughing matter, perhaps a bit of laughter can help us all to feel better.