Mindful Metropolis December 2010 : Page 20
a bumper crop of studies have reported the favorable effects of laughter on everything from heart disease and immunity to diabetes and cancer By BoB mccray a merry Heart WorKs LiKe a doctor omeone said, “Laughter is an in-stant vacation.” How true. Only, lately, health studies have reported that “funny” is also healthy. A bumper crop of studies have reported the favorable eff ects of laughter on everything from heart disease and immunity to diabetes and cancer. One study found that watching TV comedy increased the dilation of blood vessels by 22 percent for up to 24 hours. I‘ve never personally noticed the eff ect of laughter on health. But, a friend told me he had the fl u one time and was running a high fever. His family was away, and he was using his kid’s thermometer. He called and asked a neighbor’s wife the diff erence between the temperatures when you use a thermometer orally or rectally. She told him it was one degree, and then before hanging up she paused and added, “Be sure and wash it good.” He called me a week later and said he laughed so hard it broke the fever. Th e study of humor, gelotology (pro-nounced Jell-o), is nothing new. Years back best-selling author, Norman Cousins kick-started attention to laughter-as-medicine with his book, Th e Anatomy of an Illness, describing how he used laughter to recover from a serious illness. S a VinTaGe Blue PlaiD suiT wiTH HanD PainTeD rainBow TrouT Tie 20 december 2010
A Merry Heart Works Like A Doctor
A bumper crop of studies have reported the favorable effects of laughter on everything from heart disease and immunity to diabetes and cancer<br /> <br /> Someone said, “Laughter is an instant vacation.” How true. Only, lately, health studies have reported that “funny” is also healthy.<br /> <br /> A bumper crop of studies have reported the favorable effects of laughter on everything from heart disease and immunity to diabetes and cancer. One study found that watching TV comedy increased the dilation of blood vessels by 22 percent for up to 24 hours.<br /> <br /> I‘ve never personally noticed the effect of laughter on health. But, a friend told me he had the flu one time and was running a high fever. His family was away, and he was using his kid’s thermometer. He called and asked a neighbor’s wife the difference between the temperatures when you use a thermometer orally or rectally. She told him it was one degree, and then before hanging up she paused and added, “Be sure and wash it good.” He called me a week later and said he laughed so hard it broke the fever.<br /> <br /> The study of humor, gelotology (pronounced Jell-o), is nothing new. Years back best-selling author, Norman Cousins kickstarted attention to laughter-as-medicine with his book, The Anatomy of an Illness, describing how he used laughter to recover from a serious illness.<br /> <br /> But, what really caught my attention from the studies I’ve read about was the stimulative effect of laughter on boosting immunity. As a teacher, my community college students have come to class with everything from chicken pox and strep, to scarlet fever and walking pneumonia. I’m listening.<br /> <br /> Coincidentally, not long after I read about the immunity studies, I heard a psychologist on the radio say you can develop a simple habit in 21 days. With the flu season coming on, I decided to try to check my laughter quotient. A little extra immunity never hurt anybody.<br /> <br /> Studies show children laugh 400 times a day. Meanwhile, adults laugh 17 times a day. So, I did a “ho ho” inventory.<br /> <br /> Beach and watching TV comedy shows—I beat the averages by a mile. But, on a typical work day—up at 5am, commute an hour (plus), teach school six hours, drive home, grade nonstop, flop into bed—the laugh meter was in the red zone. I barely cracked a smile.<br /> <br /> Of course, when I grew up, humor was not that common in the classroom. Our high school science teacher wrote jokes in his text book; but, we knew the jokes ahead of time, and were laughing at him, not his stories. Ironically, now I’m the teacher, and at our orientation we were told not to tell jokes —“College students don’t laugh at teachers’ jokes”—generational differences.<br /> <br /> In summary, on an average work day I was rock-bottom on the laugh meter.<br /> <br /> So, I decided to do a one-month experiment: to check out “laughter” resources and try for a Norman Cousins-style laughter upgrade. Here’s what I learned:<br /> <br /> <b>Hang out with playful spirits </b><br /> <br /> A grandchild’s non-stop giggles—400 times a day—can be contagious. Christopher Morley said, “Do every day something no one else would be silly enough to do.” Skip stones with your grandkids, or purse your lips like a fish and talk to them. Silly come easy.<br /> <br /> Befriend people who can turn serious into funny. A friend was scheduled for a corneal transplant. When the doctor asked him about his problem, he said, “I can only see women out of my right eye.”<br /> <br /> (Consider laughter work shops, training classes, workshops, and clubs. The Chicago Coalition of Chuckles, followthelaughter.com lists Chicagoland laughter clubs, such as the Park Ridge Hysterical Society. There are 6,000 laughter clubs worldwide.)<br /> <br /> <b>Practice laughing at yourself </b><br /> <br /> James Thurber said that “wit” is when you make fun of others, and “humor” is when you make fun of yourself. Someone else said that when you learn to laugh at yourself you never run out of material.<br /> <br /> One time, buying film for my camera—a vintage Honeywell Pentax—I was slightly intimidated by the expertise of the digital-age salesperson. He asked me what kind of camera I had, and trying to appear cool, I said, “Oh, I’ve got an old Tampax.” Then, at his blank stare, I added, “but it doesn’t work very well.” The woman standing next to me made for the door. She’s still laughing<br /> <br /> <b>Unlock your inner gagster </b><br /> <br /> Feral apparel —T-shirts with slogans, propeller beanies, and clothing accessories—can trigger fun. Our “Old Goats Running Club” T-shirt sports a billy goat logo on the front, and the back of the shirt reads, “Hi, I’m Randy.” People ask me, “Where can I get one?” My wife gave me a tie with a hand painted rainbow trout for serving seafood. I have a suit with a plaid jacket and matching plaid pants. Women laugh out loud. Vintage clothing stores are wonderful.<br /> <br /> Objets drôles de bâillon: Garrison Keillor says jokes wear out in three years. With “funny objects” it varies. We have a beer mug with a bell to ring for refills. It’s gotten laughs for 40 years.<br /> <br /> As a kid, my first contact with “silly” gags was the dribble glass, the squirt ring, and the whoopee cushion. A half-century later, we got our grandson a gag kit at the toy store for his birthday with 20 of these gags, including the “fart maker,” and fake you-know-what. For adults, these wear out fast, but can be handed down. Uncle Fun, a Chicago toy store (Unclefun.com), carries a panoply of gags besides the traditional windup chattering teeth.<br /> <br /> <b.Games people play </b><br /> <br /> Games can bump up the laugh meter. When our kids were little and we had friends over, we’d all lay on the floor, and put our heads on another person’s stomach. Somebody would giggle, and the laughter would travel like wildfire.<br /> <br /> Other times, we’d draw straws to read parts in an Edward Albee play. Men would sometimes draw women’s roles and visa versa. We never made it through one serious reading.<br /> <br /> Another favorite was the “philosophy” game. The game leader would write down a quotation by a famous person from the Internet, for example what Thomas Jefferson said on “Anger.” Then the other players would write down aphorisms they imagined Jefferson might have said about anger. Each aphorism (without attribution) would be numbered and read aloud together with the actual quotation. Players would vote for the aphorism they thought was the “real quotation” of Thomas Jefferson, and votes would be tallied. The person whose fake aphorism receives the most votes wins. (No one ever guessed the real quotation.) Jefferson actually said, “If angry count to ten. When very angry count to a hundred.”<br /> <br /> <b>Media mother lode </b><br /> <br /> There’s never been a better time to build a personalized humor library. With his doctor’s okay, Cousins turned to books, TV, and movies for humor—to improve his condition. His laughter reduced his joint inflammation and sedimentation rate, allowing him to sleep. Ultimately, the disease went into remission and he published his 1979 best-seller, paraphrasing a proverb from the Bible, “A merry heart works like a doctor.” <br /> <br /> <b>Book Buffoonery:</b> Cousin’s favorite humor books included E. B. White’s, The Subtreasury of American Humor and Max Eastman’s, The Enjoyment of Laughter.<br /> <br /> I picked James Thurber, Jean Shepherd, Dave Barry and Bill Bryson. I was surprised to get my adult quota of 17 laughs in five minutes from Thurber’s three-page short story, The Topaz Cufflinks Mystery. Humor Classics are found under library call number 817 (limericks and light verse are shelved with poetry).<br /> <br /> <b>Tube Titillation:</b> Cousins watched “Candid Camera” and the Marx Brothers on TV.But today, the humor choices on the networks, cable, and satellite TV are practically unlimited. Advertisers mainly support prime time network TV programs targeting 18 to 24-year-old women, but if you’re not in that demographic, alternatives, including British comedies, are abundant on PBS. Meanwhile, Chicago’s free commercial channels carry reruns of Mash, Cheers, Frasier and a host of others.<br /> <br /> <b>Radio Quest:</b> Public radio carries reruns from the Golden Age of Radio, such as Jack Benny and Fred Allen, as well as Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” (prairiehomecomapnion.com) and “Car Talk.” <br /> <br /> <b>Internet Idiocy:</b> Cousin’s didn’t have the Internet, but nowadays, TV clips of the Marx Brothers, can be found on YouTube along with Laurel and Hardy, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Carol Burnett and many others—an easy way to sprinkle your day with laughter breaks.<br /> <br /> My hip, elite college students enjoy, “The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain Playing the Theme from Shaft,” and Tim Conway’s, “Dentist-who-shoots-himself-with-Novocain” routine.<br /> <br /> Pay TV, media subscriptions, and comedy clubs expand the options.<br /> <br /> <b>The 21-day schedule</b><br /> <br /> My goal was to grow my funny bone through a six-step program. First, I traded an hour of TV news for 60 minutes of TV comedy and five-minute YouTube breaks. (I scan the newspaper and Internet for news. According to studies, watching serious television documentaries constricts blood vessels 22 to 35 percent).<br /> <br /> Second, I traded an hour of “tough guy” and ”guns-and-glory” movies (violence is the saturated fat of TV) for reading James Thurber, Jean Shepherd and other humorists. Third, I played Garrison Keillor and Bob and Ray tapes on my commute. Fourth, I visited a toy store and picked up some gag objects.<br /> <br /> Fifth, I journaled humorous incidents (studies report only 15 percent of laughter comes from “jokes”). For example, we took an Amtrak ride to Minneapolis one time. The conductors were all women, and some were hard taskmasters. The train had been modernized since our last ride, and when I used the bathroom, I pressed a button where the handle had always been placed to flush. It lit up yellow, but nothing happened. I thought if I pushed it again it would work, but it didn’t, so I beat it out of there. A few minutes later when I sat down next to my wife, a harsh voice rang out over the loudspeaker, “Will the person who pressed the ‘call attendant button’ please remain seated until the attendant arrives.” Everybody laughed out loud, and it continued, “When using the toilet, be sure and flush. Flush twice if necessary. Don’t leave anything behind. Thank you for your cooperation.” By then, tears were running down from my wife’s eyes.<br /> <br /> <b>The payoff</b><br /> <br /> I learned that the laughing habit can be developed through a “ho ho” fitness program, and with “silly breaks” it can happen in 21 days.<br /> <br /> The exchange of news for TV comedy isn’t easy, but pays major dividends. VIVO (violence-in-violence-out) can be replaced by HIHO (humor-in-humor-out).<br /> <br /> I tripled my laughter quotient for the work week, and as, “an action creates a life of its own,” with the new awareness, my funny bone keeps growing.<br /> <br /> Finally, humor (a.k.a. vitamins for the soul), is a medicine that’s good for you and doesn’t taste bad.<br /> <br /> Bob McCray is an Evanston, Ill., native who teaches news writing, features, investigative reporting and business writing at community college. He has published more than 400 articles, short stories and pieces of creative non-fiction in national and regional publications.
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