Want to hear something funny? Laughter is beneficial for good health


Dear readers,


It is time for some levity. Today’s column is about laughter and how it can help us manage these challenging times – both physically and mentally.

Let’s start with the science behind laughter. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are both long- and short-term benefits.


For the short term, laughter increases our intake of air which stimulates our heart, lungs and muscles. It also activates the secretion of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, “feel good” hormones secreted by the brain. A hearty belly laugh increases and cools down our heart rate and blood pressure, making us feel more relaxed. Long term, laughter is reported to improve our immune system, makes it easier to cope with difficult situations and diminishes pain.


During the mid-60s, the late Norman Cousins, longtime editor of Saturday Review, made a remarkable discovery as he suffered from a severe life-threatening illness causing a great deal of pain. He discovered what he called the powerful drug of laughter. Belly laughter ten minutes a day had an anesthetic effect, giving him at least two hours of pain-free sleep. He went on to a second career as author, UCLA faculty member and speaker on the impact of laughter on pain and recovery.


We laugh and smile at jokes, funny stories and even stories with a message. Here is a true anecdote told by the late noted geriatrician Dr. Gene Cohen, a pioneer in geriatric psychiatry from George Washington University. He and his wife were expecting his in-laws for dinner. Both in their 70s, the parents emerged from a Washington, DC subway in a blinding snowstorm with no available taxis. His father noticed a pizza shop across the street; the couple traipsed through the snow to the pizza store and ordered a large pizza for delivery to their son’s home. After giving the address, his father added, “There’s just one more thing. Deliver us with it.” Cohen indicated this was a story of agile creativity. 


Then there are one-liners that stand-up comedians have used for years such as George Burns’ one-liner “When I was a boy the Dead Sea was only sick” or W.C. Fields who said, “Start every day with a smile and get it over with.” 


And then there are funny stories: “In his late 80s, my father-in-law went to the DMV to renew his driver’s license. At one point during the road test, he approached a four-way stop, looked to his left, and cruised straight through the stop sign. “Sir! You didn’t look to your right,” yelled the frightened inspector. My father-in-law calmly shook his head. ‘That’s Mum’s side.’”


Laughter can be encouraged. Kathy Swank, member of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Village, read an article describing how laughter had a positive impact on Alzheimer’s victims. That motivated her to launch a program called SMILES which stands for Seniors Meeting in Laugher and Enjoyment. About 18-20 Village members meet once a month, each bringing a joke or story to share. Swank begins each SMILE session with the following Ten Commandments for Lighthearted Living (Okay, Eleven), founded in 1976 by comedian author Larry Wilde, Director of the Carmel Institute of Humor. 

  1. Thou shalt make up your mind that no matter what happens you’re going to be a happy person.

  2. Thou shalt start the day with a smile by reading something funny. Skip the stress of listening to the news.

  3. Thou shalt keep smiling! It makes people wonder what you’ve been up to.

  4. If thou meetist someone who hasn’t got a smile, give them yours.

  5. Laugh at your dumb mistakes before others have a chance to.

  6. Laugh with your spouse and your marriage will improve with age.

  7. Laugh with your kids and they’ll never stop loving you.

  8. Thou shalt not laugh with your relatives — it will encourage them to borrow money.

  9. Thou shalt not talk on thy cell phone while standing in line at the Post Office.

  10. Don’t ever, ever give up. Moses was once a basket case

  11. AND remember: Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.

So dear readers, give yourself a lift. Share stories and jokes with a friend. Consider organizing your own SMILE group on Zoom. Laugh, have fun and stay safe. 


Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity 

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