Laughter therapy, also known as humor therapy, has been used throughout history in different medical approaches. Although traditional science does not advocate humor as a legitimate treatment for immune system diseases, there have been studies indicating that laughter has positive effects on the body.
In the thirteenth century, some doctors used laughter to distract their patients away from the pain of surgery. More recently, Norman Cousins announced to everyone that he cured himself of an unspecified illness with a regimen he created himself involving vitamin supplements and laughter. These unscientific explanations have left skeptics wanting for more solid evidence.
Recent studies have shown that humor leads to a greater tolerance for physical pain. Laughter has been found to increase endorphins that lead to pain control. An additional study has found that stress hormones decrease when a person is laughing. Such findings support the belief that laughter can lower or relieve stress. Reduced stress has a positive effect on the immune system.
Laughter therapy has been integrated into cancer treatment and other health programs to relieve pain, reduce stress, promote relaxation and generate a better quality of life. Research has found that there are several types of humor. One type is passive; it results from hearing a funny joke, witnessing a funny incident or watching a funny show. Another type of humor is when a person actively chooses to find the humor in life situations. This type of humor is under one’s control and increases the chances of well being in day-to-day life.
Given the lack of extensive scientific research on laughter therapy, conventional medicine does not advocate its exclusive use in the context of serious disease. However, it is considered a harmless practice to be integrated into existing treatments for cancer or other diseases that attack the immune system.
Some weight loss counselors advocate laughter therapy. They argue that people overeat because they are unhappy. By integrating laughter therapy into their lives, people will feel better. When feeling happier and experiencing less stress in life, a person who generally eats to fill an emotional void will tend to eat less.
The challenge with such a therapy is when it is interpreted by people as the sole treatment for debilitating disease. While an increase in endorphins and greater tolerance for pain are positive factors, they are not total solutions to diseases that attack the immune system. Additionally, it has been noted that laughter therapy can be damaging in some cases if it is applied in situations to avoid serious issues or resist facing delicate matters.
When it comes to certain health problems or weight loss issues, isolation, depression and boredom can have negative physical effects. Laughter therapy is considered a way to lift a person out of that mental state. Again, as an addition to other health treatments, it is generally considered both helpful and harmless.