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Sunday, January 24, 2010


We’ve know for a long time  that a person’s mental well-being has profound effects on his physical health.

I first discovered this, personally, when my young son had his tonsils out in a British hospital many years ago. In those days a parent’s presence was neither welcomed nor encouraged

But I insisted on staying with him, accompanying him right up to the door of the operating theatre and  waiting for his return to the recovery ward.

Afterwards the doctor told me  that he would be able to go home a day earlier than the other children who had been operated on at the same time. Why?

Because he had you, his mother with him. It’s bound to make his recovery quicker and easier because he’s happier.”                        Put simply – a happy person heals faster.

Norman Cousins, one time editor of  The  Saturday Review ( and father of Jerusalem writer and author Sarah Shapiro) took this much further when he claimed to have cured  himself of the degenerative disease,  ankylosing spondylitis,  by using laughter therapy. Taking mega doses of Vitamin C and watching hours of  Marx Brothers movies, Cousins details his return to health in his book Anatomy of an Illness in which he says.   

"I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep."

He didn’t coin the phrase “laughter is the best medicine”, but he’s probably the first one to prove it’s efficacy.

His theory  now has scientific backing. After his return to health, he established  the Humor Research Task Force at UCLA Medical School to research clinically the effects of laughter therapy.

Scientists claim that it has been proven  now that laughter releases endorphins, the body's natural painkiller. It also brings about an increase in the number and activity level of natural killer cells that attack cells infected by virus and some types of cancer and tumor cells.

In general, laughter raises your resistance against infections by increasing the concentration of circulating antibodies in the blood stream.  In addition to all of this, laughter is also  a good cardio workout, increasing heart activity, and stimulating circulation.

But putting all this into practice is something else. Not everyone will sit himself in front of  screen and watch belly-laughing movies.

But you may be relieved to know that the laughter doesn’t have to be naturally induced by something funny. The effects of laughter on your body are just as good if the laughter is ‘forced’.  Your body doesn’t know the difference between real and fake laughter and you  get the same physiological and psychological benefits from both. There are more and more  laughter therapy workshops, a.k.a. laughter yoga, being set up on a world wide scale,where through various exercises and activities you spend an hour laughing – and your body and mind receive untold benefits.


However,  children can and do laugh at lot more than adults, given the opportunity and  Israel  is now in the forefront of  the  use of medical clowns to help with  the recovery of very  sick  children in hospitals. Nowadays their help is invaluable  as part of the medical teams in most Israeli hospitals, especially on the pediatric wards. .

CNN recently reported on Israel’s major  role in this field. Haifa University is now offering a three year degree course in Medical clowning. Once again Israel is the trailblazer in a field of medicine which deserves to be taken far more seriously than its name implies.


Rosalind Adam said...

A fascinating read. Norman Cousins must have had amazing determination. I find it hard to laugh when life is kicking me but your post has made me determined to give it a try. Thanks Ann and well done to Israel.

Anonymous said...

When I was in King George's hospital, Newbury Park (now since closed) in 1974 at the age of ten they had a clown who went round talking to the children.

Then and now, I have always found clowns creepy and frightening. When I was with my son in the children's department of Hadassah Ein Karem a few years ago they had clowns there almost on a daily basis. I saw that some children found them funny, others were really frightened by them. I agree with you that laughter is a great terufah but I'm not convinced that clowns perform that task particularly well.


Ann said...

Ros - I was also relieved to know that fake laughter is just as good and even went once to a laughter therapy class to see just how easy it is to force laughter knowing how good it is for the body.

Just seeing a clown from a distance can be frightening at first for some children but I have seen such children after a short time of personal interaction with the clown, feel happy and comfortable with him and soon join in the fun and forget his illness.