Cancer – A Laughing Matter?

There is nothing funny about having cancer and yet there is strong evidence that laughing may aid recovery through positive physiological and psychological affect.

Positive Psychology has acknowledged the benefits of humour and its ability to increase feelings of positive emotion which lead to happiness but do not appear to have realised that laughter can be facilitated through laughter exercises such as Laughter Yoga. Laughter in a group is extremely contagious and after a few minutes of laughing exercises, spontaneous laughter breaks out. This is also due to the effect of mirror neurones which cause us to mimic the emotional responses that we observe in others. Laughter Yoga exploits this phenomenon by making sure that there is lots of eye contact and physical synchrony.

Laughter is good for us and makes us feel good. How laughter is facilitated doesn’t really matter because as long as we are laughing we are benefitting and the longer and harder we laugh, the better. Clown therapy has been shown to be extremely effective with children and adults alike and many hospitals have adopted this popular practice. Some hospitals invest in comic material and encourage patients to read funny books and watch funny films so they get well sooner. Famously, Norman Cousins aided his recovery and relief from the pain of his illness by watching comic films. After a period of laughter he found that his pain subsided and he was able to sleep. Whenever he awoke in pain he would watch his films again until once again he felt relieved. He attributed laughter as a significant influence in his ability to recover and become well again.

At the free community laughter club that I run in The New Forest, UK our members have witnessed and experienced the powerful effects of laughter. Several suffering from medical conditions that cause them pain and disabilities in their everyday life find that their symptoms reduce or even abate during a laughter session and often experience relief for many days afterwards. Emotional pain is relieved too because laughter is an extremely ‘in the moment’ experience and deprives us of the ability to think ahead or remember the past. Laughter sessions provide a break from our everyday problems and the environment is one where laughter is always appropriate. People who are experiencing bereavement, financial difficulties, medical issues, providing care for others, general anxiety or stress can benefit from a period where these things become temporarily forgotten and afterwards they are likely to feel more resilient and able to cope.

When you learn to ‘laugh for no reason’ especially in the face of adversity it provides a powerful resource and strategy to cope with the stresses of everyday life. Of course many people attend who do not have such problems but nevertheless they leave in a more positive and relaxed state than when they arrive. I am convinced that my regular practice of laughing (with and without reason) has increased my physical health and my level of subjective well-being. Like many others, I choose to laugh because I choose to be happy. When I laugh I feel happy, when I feel happy I laugh.

Laughter is a great distraction and focuses the mind on the positive. When in the flow of prolonged laughter many describe it as like meditation and afterwards there is a great feeling of calm and relaxation. There are more details of the health benefits of laughter on

Below is a video of a Laughter Yoga session facilitated in a chemotherapy session. I would be very interested to hear from anyone who is currently or has been involved in similar sessions. Any comments about the power of laughter to heal are most welcome.

Keep laughing, it’s good for you. ?


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