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How Laughter Helped To Save A Human Life

Written by: Sam Rehan, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

How much did you laugh yesterday? How much did you laugh last week? Let me share two true stories, where laughter helped play an extraordinary part in aiding physical and mental health.

Happy woman laughing while lying on the bed using smartphone mobile at home

In the winter of 2015, a single mother buried her face in her hands. In the space of exactly one week, a young close family member passed away unexpectedly, her young son suffered a concussion on a school trip, and she was informed that she was going to lose her job (her sole source of income) through redundancy. Adding to that, she was living as a single mother with two young children (one with regular medical needs) in temporary accommodation. She sought to seek a way to manage her overwhelming emotions after she put the children to bed. Clambering to feel lighter, she found some comedy clips but they didn’t help her racing frantic thoughts. It felt like too much work to decipher the humour. The canned (taped) laughter sounded jarring to her anxious tired mind. She searched the internet and came across clips of a very young baby’s gurgling and chortling. It was a magical, life-changing moment. Her whole body began to relax as she began to smile alongside the baby’s beautiful natural laughter. She replayed the video clip and then played more similar videos. It was astonishing to her how much better she felt laughing. Her mental tension lifted and she felt less stressed and more relaxed.


The single mother was me.


I sought more laughter as the days progressed. Smiling and laughing helped me to distract from my worries. The laughter supported me to access a more positive headspace so I could manage life better and stay strong for me and my children. It was astonishing to me how something as simple as laughter helped me feel so much better. With a science background, I was naturally interested in the research behind laughter. Decades of research and hundreds of studies showed the wide-ranging health benefits of laughter. Even smiling creates positive changes in the body. I was hooked on accessing this emotion for a better life. I sought ways to lengthen my laughter, as the research showed that 15 minutes of laughter was needed for your health to benefit. During times of anxiety, I forced a smile. On one occasion, I could not smile, but I found getting up and walking around the room helped. Moving helped me raise a smile and my laughter emerged and I felt mentally and emotionally better. Once I began to laugh more and more, the laughter came easier and easier. Even thinking about laughing improved my mood. I knew that if laughter could have this impact on me, then it could on others and I needed to proactively put it in front of more people who could really benefit from it. Laughter helped me feel less stressed and more relaxed, so much so, that I became a professional laughter facilitator.


“Laughter is a healthful link between surviving and thriving.” Sam Rehan

On to the second story.


Let me share with you how laughter helped save a man’s life Over 60 years ago, the Cold War was a profound time when fear and tension were heavy between the East and the West. In 1964, a young man, Norman Cousins, became ill after a stressful trip to Russia. Cousin was an American journalist, editor and advocate for world peace. He was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful inflammatory illness that was crippling, and at his worst, Cousins was nearly incapable of moving his jaw. Norman’s doctor told him that only one of every 500 people diagnosed with this affliction fully recovered and he expected him to die within a few months. Cousins sought conventional medical treatment. He also decided that positivity was key. He spent hours each day watching funny TV and movie clips and similar ‘laughing matter’. He reasoned that if stress had somehow contributed to his illness (he was not sick before the trip to Russia), then positive emotions should help him feel better. Within a few months, his symptoms began to recede and he returned to work. He claimed that ten minutes of belly rippling laughter would give him two hours of pain-free sleep, when nothing else, not even morphine, could help him. Norman steadily got better and within six months he was back on his feet, and within two years he was able to return to his full-time job. Encouraged by his recovery, Cousins took his message to the medical community. His story inspired a number of research projects and piqued the interest of the scientific community.


“I was greatly elated by the discovery that there is a physiological basis for the ancient theory that laughter is good medicine,” Cousins wrote in an article, ‘Anatomy of an Illness (as Perceived by the Patient)’ published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The article became the basis for the first 2 of 25 books Cousins wrote on emotions and healing and led to his appointment at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). At UCLA, Cousins led a full role: he wrote, lectured medical students, assisted in clinical research and raised funds for research.


Cousins was criticised for suggesting that laughter could cure illness. Harold Benjamin (founder of Wellness Community centres in the US) said, “He would say that is absurd. What he did say is that pleasant emotions enhance physical well-being: laughter, love, success, camaraderie are all pleasant emotions. The more we can get of them, the better off we are.” Benjamin also disclosed that Cousins never encouraged forsaking conventional medical treatment. Instead, he encouraged patients to enhance their treatment with techniques relating to the brain and immunity (field now known aspsychoneuroimmunology), such as imagery.


One day, in 1980, a young depressed mother Flo Porter picked up the phone and called Norman Cousins. She had a recurrence of breast cancer. Porter recalled, “I told him I was 36. I had just had a mastectomy. I had two small children, and I was fearful of dying.” Cousins invited her to his house. Porter said of their one-hour meeting, “He emphasised that it was important to have a good attitude; that it didn’t matter what the statistics were on my chances to live. It changed my whole life.” Cousins received hundreds of awards including the UN Peace Medal and nearly 50 honorary doctorate degrees. He died in 1990, 36 years after his diagnosis, aged 75.


In my role as a well-being & laughter trainer, I have supported many people – all backgrounds, with varying physical abilities – to prolong their laughter for greater health. I have facilitated laughter with people with dementia, disabilities, teenagers with autism, seniors, school children and in workplaces and even held a laughter session in an operating theatre with medics. Laughter is a language that we all speak and it binds people together. We feel more connected to the people we laugh with.


People have shared powerful stories associated with their laughter experiences. In one of my public laughter classes, a man roared with laughter and glowed. He shared with me that aged 14, a group of older schoolgirls laughed at him. They told him that his laugh was awful. Until that moment, he laughed quietly behind his hands but now felt he could embrace his laugh fully, a full 36 years later. It was a powerful moment to watch.


I facilitated a laughter session with a group of seniors and a serene-looking petite lady raised her hand. “Can I tell everyone my experience with laughter?” she asked. We listened and our mouths fell open as her opening words were, “My father slapped me when I laughed out loud as a young girl.” She vowed to laugh as much as possible, and as an adult she continues to do so with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


One lady who had had a mastectomy eight days earlier, came to my group laughter session. She said she heard about the power of laughter and afterwards felt better emotionally and physically.


A lady said she had spent three years grieving after a family bereavement, but after laughing with me said she felt she could laugh without feeling guilty and felt the best she had in three years.


A man with dementia who had lost his speech, was overjoyed he could make laughter sounds. He took 30 minutes to write out five words to me … “Thank you for my laugh.”


Laughter is a choice I have made. When I laugh, I feel fully present. Laughter has supported me during difficult times, enhanced personal and work relationships and supported my physical and emotional health. Laughter has led me to a joyful career. I support workplaces, communities and charities with relaxation and stress management and well-being with laughter. Surprisingly, more benefits of laughing daily have emerged for me. At the time of writing this book, aged 49, I have loads of energy and as laughter stimulates facial muscles, I enjoy ageing well! Life continues to have its ups and downs as it does for us all, but laughter is an important DAILY form of support for me and it can be for you.


I feel I have the best job in the world. I invite you to explore laughter with me.


Read more or listen: Laugh More: Soar in Your Health, Career and Relationships (Sam Rehan, 2020)


Sam is a Wellness Professional and a highly experienced work-place trainer. Sam has shared her smile and supportive strengthening techniques with humans in over 44 locations worldwide. Sam works with individuals, employees and leaders to access more well-being easily, FAST with sustainable results. Her aim is for everyone to have a positive experience. She teaches you to Be well. Work Well. Lead Well


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Sam Rehan, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Sam Rehan is a high impact well-being motivator, wellness professional, author and speaker with an exceptional track record. Sam has been a corporate trainer for 21 years and has over 30+ years of expertise working in everything from corporate training and management to health, science, and scientific research, to holistic therapies and cognitive coaching.

Sam’s motto is: Be Well. Work Well. Lead Well. She currently helps teams and individuals in high-pressure environments to reduce anxiety, accelerate thinking, and integrate sustainable self-care techniques into their lives. Sam’s gentle, nurturing, yet highly transformative methods are all backed by real science with a focus on long-term success. She not only teaches these methods to her clients, but lives and models them in her own life as well.

At age 50, Sam continues to teach happy ageing and improved wellness with her trademark approach, utilising the lightness of laughter, powerful relaxation techniques, and her magnetic energy and enthusiasm – all of which are on clear display in her breakthrough book, Laugh More: Soar In Your Health, Career and Relationships.

 

References:

  1. Cousins, N. (1976). Anatomy of an Illness (as Perceived by the Patient). N Engl J Med 1976; 295:1458– 1463

  2. Cousins, N. (2005) Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient (Twentieth Anniversary Edition. W. W. Norton & Company

  3. Los Angeles Times (1990). The Positive Influence of Norman Cousins. Retrieved 23 January 2020 from: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1990-12-06-vw8306-story.html

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