A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)
LAUGHTER AS A HEALING TOOL
A few years ago, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to two immunotherapy researchers for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer.
As a breast cancer survivor, I say “Amen!” Thanks to advances like this, including innovative treatments and early detection, I am a 12-year survivor. Well … innovative treatments, early detection, and of course, laughter.
Yes. As a comedian, minister, and cancer survivor, I believe that laughter is one of the most powerful tools we have for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. In the month of Breast Cancer Awareness, it is something we should celebrate.
There is overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of humor. For example, we know that the extra intake of air from laughing can lower our blood pressure, boost the immune system, enhance heart and lung function, and increase endorphins. It can even bump up our calorie burn. In fact, laughing for 15 minutes can burn 80 calories. That’s enough to justify a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup!
Hospitals and treatment centers are now using humor as a healing tool for cancer, Alzheimer’s, autism, and mental health issues. The Big Apple Clown Care Unit, for example, sponsors programs across the country in which clowns help children cope with the intimidating atmosphere of a hospital.
Another program, Standup for Mental Health, uses stand-up comedy training to reduce the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. Its founder David Granirer explains, “The idea is that laughing at our setbacks raises us above them. It makes people go from despair to hope, and hope is crucial to anyone struggling with adversity.”
LAUGHTER CHANGES OUR PERSPECTIVE
Humor and laughter can also bring psychological healing. During my cancer struggle, I realized I had three choices: be mad, be sad, or laugh. I soon learned that the most powerful approach was to laugh. One day, a new patient walked into the radiation center with a T-shirt that read: “Yes, they are fake; my old ones tried to kill me.” The entire waiting room burst out laughing. That moment of laughter reminded us that cancer was not who we were; it was only something we were experiencing.
Laughter changes our perspective and invites us to see things in a fresh new way. The ability to step back and laugh at ourselves also reminds us that we are only human and that we should be more forgiving of ourselves. Like the serenity prayer teaches: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Of course, I like the senility prayer better: “God, grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones that I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.” Either way, laughter helps us see ourselves in a more forgiving light.
Spiritual healing may be where laughter is most powerful. As Proverbs 17:22 teaches us,
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.
The Hebrew word “ruach” means both “spirit” and “air.” Therefore, it can be said that when we laugh, we are inhaling and exhaling the spirit – or as author Anne Lamott describes it, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.”
THE ONE THING THAT MAY SAVE US ALL
Why not laugh? God has a sense of humor. Consider 1 Samuel 5:9 where God strikes the entire male population of Philistines with hemorrhoids (harsh, but funny). The fact that we are made in the image of the divine and laugh and feel joy suggests a part of the divine must also laugh.
The willingness to laugh with God also allows us to express anger with God. Sometimes we blame or get mad at God for what we are going through, but to work through that anger, we have to share it. To be healed, we must bring God all our pieces: anger, sadness, fear, and laughter. It’s all holy.
So, here’s to the immunotherapy researchers, doctors, nurses, technicians, and everyone else whose life is dedicated to caring for and healing us – God bless them. Most of all, God bless the gift of laughter — the one thing that may save us all.
A trial lawyer turned standup comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the twenty-year senior pastor of the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. She is also a professional comedian touring nationally with the Laugh in Peace Tour. The author of five books, a TEDx speaker, and an award-winning, nationally-syndicated columnist, Susan has been featured in The Oprah Magazine, CBS, USA Today, and the History Channel. Most importantly, Susan and her husband Toby love to fly fish, ride their Harleys, and eat great BBQ. Check out her latest books: Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor and Love, a Tiara, and a Cupcake: Three Secrets to Finding Happy.
Self-Care for your Emotions & Mind
Exercise your brain, keep your mind sharp, redirect your thoughts, and focus on what is positive and true with these ideas. Emotional self-care helps us to identify what we’re feeling and how to express it in healthy ways.