Laughter Is The Best Medicine

We are all familiar with the expression, “laughter is the best medicine” and it is clear to see that laughter has a vital role to play in the healing process.

Laughter has been shown to have a positive impact on our physical, as well as our mental, health. With beneficial effects on various aspects of biochemistry, as it reduces the body’s stress hormones and provides natural pain relief, laughter is an inexpensive, powerful, natural medicine and a vital ingredient of any healing journey or protocol.

For years, the use of humour has been used in medicine. Surgeons used humour to distract patients from pain as early as the 13th century. Let’s take a closer look at the story of journalist Norman Cousins, who back in 1964 battled a case of crippling connective tissue disease, and the impact that laughter had on his health. After years of prolonged pain from a serious illness, Cousins helped himself with a self-invented regimen of laughter and vitamins. He documented his experience in the 1979 book “Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, which describes how comedy helped him recover. Cousins, who was known for his kindness to others and love of life itself, said, “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anaesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free. Sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.”[1]


Research into laughter and its effect on the body

Dr Lee Berk (Loma University in California) conducted laughter therapy for many years and as early as in the 1970s. One study from 1989 showed lower cortisol levels in those watching comedies. Berks research also shows that the level of natural killer cells is increased through laughter. Long-term stress has the opposite effect on the same cells. In an interview with Berk, from back in 2019, featured on the Loma Linda University Website, [2] He states, “When I started my career in healthcare, I used to emphasise the importance of the physical factors of health. As my career and knowledge matured, I spent more time learning how factors like lifestyle, diet, gratitude spirituality, attitude, and forgiveness could also play roles in health and disease outcomes. My idea to study laughter was also inspired by the Bible. In Proverbs 17:22, the author writes, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” This refers to the integrative medical science of psycho-neuro-immunology being stated in biblical terms. This was the starting point and is the core if whole person care of mind, body and spirit. Just like people with depression have a greater propensity to have a compromised immune system, my research came to show that people who experience joyful laughter have biological translations and can impact positive responses of the immune system.”


Laughter as a therapy

In recent years, an exercise form known as Laughter Yoga has entered the wellbeing space. This modern exercise form involves prolonged voluntary laughter and is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides similar physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughter yoga tends to be practised in groups and it requires the participants to be very playful and keep eye contact with others within the group. More information about laughter yoga and laughter therapy can be found at


Watch lots of comedies

Back in 2017 when I was diagnosed with stage III bowel cancer, the best advice a stage IV bowel cancer patient gave me was to watch lots of comedies. As a Holistic Health Mentor and Cancer Support Coach, this is something I love to pass onto any clients that I work for them to add to their toolkit. Because it is clear to see that laughter really is the best medicine or a very important ingredient at least.


Written by Maria Honeker, Holistic Health Mentor & Cancer Support Coach



[1] Norman Cousins, Anatomy of an illness as perceived by the patient: reflections on healing and regeneration, New York, Norton 1979


Maria Honeker

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