Healing With Hilarity: The Transformational Power of Humor and Laughter

By: Kathleen F. Bender


I realize that humor isn’t for everyone. It’s only for people who want to have fun, enjoy life, and feel alive.

– Anne Wilson Shaef

At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.

– Jean Houston

It’s time for me to re-examine the growing use of humor and laughter as a healing modality. As a JFKU undergraduate in 2004, my research on this valuable topic provided compelling evidence that humor and laughter used in a therapeutic manner may help reduce pain and stress and possibly boost the body’s immune system, according to many physicians.(Expanding your sense of humor can even improve your “amuse” system, as I’ve happily found.) It was my own experience of living with severe chronic pain for many years that prompted me to consider the use of hilarity as medicine. I’m still laughing after all these years –love those endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals produced by the body that provide pain relief.

It’s clear to me that laughter and humor is sorely (ouch) needed on this planet. Laughter is one state of consciousness that could really help us cope with life in a fear-based society. I need the joy. We all do. And I believe that this topic is hotly pursuing me! I can’t escape from “it,” and I don’t want to. So I’ve pursued this topic for the common good.

Recent Internet searches reveal that mainstream interest in humor and laughter as a healing modality has gained considerable momentum during the past five years.  Just knowing about this growing enthusiasm is enough to tickle me tie-dye.

Much to my delight, Laughter Yoga, the Eastern-inspired technique for stress and pain relief, has gained even more momentum since it first appeared on my radar screen in 2004. In 2007, soon after I spotted the name Bev Bender (no relation to my husband), “Certified Laugh Leader,” in a local business paper, the San Francisco Chronicle (October 14, 2007) featured a funny story (imagine that!) on the healing power of Laughter Yoga; Bev Bender’s website was listed. You know where this is going. I’ve since become a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader, after completing the required course taught by the enthusiastic Bev Bender and another qualified teacher (Bev is an accomplished graduate of Dr. Madan Kataria’s Laughter Yoga Teacher training program and a graduate of the Certified Laughter Leader training with Steve Wilson, a psychologist (worldlaughtertour.com) and former collaborator with Dr. Kataria).
As a 2008 graduate of Dr. Kataria’s School of Laughter Yoga, I’m now able to officially share my knowledge of the benefits of laughter with a laugh-deprived world (laughteryoga.org). Of course, there are many, many ways to share the absolutely glorious gifts of humor and laughter, as you will discover. It’s apparent that I’m well-suited for humor research, seeing that I cope with the challenge of living with a severe chronic pain syndrome. Conducting additional humor research is likely to be beneficial for me and for others who are suffering with pain and illness. The methodology that I think will work best for this humor research is Intuitive Inquiry, as my goal will be the transformation of researcher, researched, and perhaps a suffering reader or two.

Research and writing about humor and laughter has gone totally global- maybe even gone bananas, as it seems like everyone wants to hop on their local humor bandwagon and get in on the action. Humorous books, newspaper, magazine, journal articles, as well as numerous scholarly works are being cranked-out at a furious pace across the globe. Why? I imagine the authors would like to add some fun to their lives(and we need all the fun we can get in these challenging times). OK, there’s probably more to it than that. Perhaps a pressing need to share something helpful could explain this intense volume of research and writing, but I would not underestimate the fun factor as a powerful motivator.

Right after deciding to re-examine the topic of therapeutic humor, laughter and healing, I took a giant leap of faith and hopped right back- on the humor bandwagon(equipped with training wheels, because I’m still a newbie). Suddenly, funny stuff began appearing everywhere, and I’ve included four examples of what’s currently new in the mainstream and academic world. Let me begin with Mitch Scheele’s (2005) article in the Feb/March 2009 Northwest Brewing News’ Beer HUMOR Issue: ”What’s So Funny About Beer?” Beer is funny?(No, it’s foamy) It made me so “hoppy” to discover this thirsty author’s belief that even if it has not been determined when “beer or humor began, the two are undeniably intertwined throughout history” (2009,p.4).  (This is great news if you love to laugh instead of cry in your beer like I do.)

It was also interesting to learn that “the word humor derives from the Latin word umor, which means fluid or liquid, or to be moist” (p.4)– like beer!  Moving from the “sudsy” to a more seriously “silly” Steve Martin, writer Jeanne Wolf interviewed the zany comedian for the Sunday Parade Newspaper Magazine in the San Francisco Chronicle (January 25, 2009, pp.4-5). In “Laugh and Life Goes On,” the famous comedian was asked to comment on the stressful times we are living in: “We’ve got to find a way to have a laugh at the things that are getting us down” (p.4-5), says Steve Martin. Exactly, Steverino. It is evident this long-time funny man understands the serious dilemmas we’re currently facing, and delights in his superb ability to help ease the pain these challenges cause.  As Martin says, “Life goes on,” (p.4) and “… things aren’t so dire that you can’t have a good laugh” (p.4). “Even in tough times you can afford to laugh”(cover of the magazine). Yes we can! (Sorry, President Obama) Steve Martin is equally funny and wise, wouldn’t you agree?

To be continued.