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The gift of laughter

Dr. David L. Chancey's picture

A Texas kindergarten teacher was helping one of her students put on his cowboy boots. He had asked for help, and she could see why. Even with her pulling and him pushing, the little boots still didn’t want to go on. By the time they got the second boot on, she had worked up a sweat. She almost cried when the little boy said, “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.” She looked, and sure enough, they were.

It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on, this time on the right feet. He then announced, “These aren’t my boots.”

She bit her tongue rather than scold and scream, “Why didn’t you say so?”

Once again, she struggled to help him pull the boots off his little feet. No sooner had they gotten the boots off when he said, “They’re my brother’s boots and Mom made me wear them today.”

She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but she mustered up enough patience and energy to get the boots back on his little feet.

Helping him into his coat, she asked, “Now, where are your mittens?”

He said, “I stuffed ‘em into the toes of my boots!”

There’s an old saying: “If you can laugh at it, you can live with it.”

Laughter is good for you, but most of us don’t laugh enough. In an article on “The Benefits of Laughter,” Chuck Gallozi wrote, “William Fry, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School and expert on health and laughter, reports the average kindergarten student laughs 300 times a day. Yet, adults average just 17 laughs a day. Why the difference?

“We don’t stop laughing because we grow old,” he wrote. “We grow old because we stop laughing.”

In 1976, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article by Norman Cousins about his experience with laughter therapy. Cousins explained how he was diagnosed in 1964 with ankylosing spondylitis (AS). This disease usually results in acute inflammation of the spine and can affect other areas of the body. Cousins’ case was so severe that he was given a one in 500 chance of recovery and a few months to live.

Realizing that negative thoughts and attitudes can result in illness, he reasoned that positive thoughts and attitudes may have the opposite effect. So he left the hospital and checked into a motel where he took mega doses of vitamin C and watched humorous movies and shows, including Candid Camera and the Marx Brothers. He found that ten minutes of boisterous laughter resulted in at least two hours of pain-free sleep. He continued his routine until he recovered, proving that laughter IS the best medicine.

Norman Cousins died of a heart attack in 1990 after living much longer than the physicians originally predicted: ten years after his first heart attack and 26 years after his doctor’s first diagnosis.

Gallozi and others list several benefits of laughter:

•Laughter dissolves tension, stress, anxiety, irritation, anger, grief and depression.

•Laughter boosts the immune system.

•Laughter reduces pain by releasing endorphins that are more potent than equivalent amounts of morphine.

•Laughter is a good cardio workout. It increases the activity of the heart and stimulates circulation. In addition, after the laughter subsides, the cardiovascular system goes into a state of relaxation.

•Laughter and a good sense of humor can help you accept the inevitable, rise to any challenge, handle the unexpected with ease, and come out of any difficulty smiling. A sense of humor can help us cope.

Proverbs 17:22 reads, “A merry heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” Have you had a good laugh today?

Dr. David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, Georgia. The church family gathers at 352 McDonough Road and invites you to join them for Bible study each Sunday at 9:45 a.m. and worship at 10:55 a.m. Visit them on the web at


Dr. Chancey, I very much enjoyed your blog, but would like to offer some feedback on one minor point. I was diagnosed with AS in 1985, and read Mr. Cousins book in the late 1980s. The claim that he "cured" his Ankylosing Spondylitis is pure fiction.

People with Ankylosing Spondylitis can certainly ameliorate some of their symptoms with laughter, but there is no cure for this often devastating disease, which strikes young people primarily between the ages of 17 and 34, and which can fuse the neck and spine and other parts of the body. (Recent CDC estimates put the number of people with AS in the U.S. as up to 2.4 million, more than MS, Cystic Fibrosis and Lou Gehrig's disease combined.)

In the mid-90's, I created a website, dedicated to making people with AS laugh, so I do appreciate the power of laughter to heal people's souls.

Laughter, however, is not a cure for a serious, chronic, debilitating disease like AS, it is a coping mechanism.

Every doctor I have spoken to about Cousins agrees that Cousins didn't even have AS. The disease is not, as Cousins wrote, "Fatal", most people with AS live and learn to manage their disease. I have been totally fused, neck and spine since 1989, and yet still manage to work full-time.

In fact, most of the websites dedicated to preserving Cousins' legacy have now backed away from saying he had AS; they now state he had some kind of vague "autoimmune" disease or possibly Reactive Arthritis, and yet, articles keep popping up with the reference to Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), because that's what he wrote in the book.

Some of my fellow ASers and I have been seeking out such articles as a kind of Spondylitis Truth Squad, to try to set the record straight. We find the repeating of the fiction that AS is easily cured by laughter and Vitamin C, something that undermines our efforts to raise awareness of AS. Ankylosing Spondylitis is a serious, devastating disease that lasts a lifetime and can completely change the course of one's life, and not in a good way. Mr. Cousins did a horrible dis-service to people who struggle with the effects of AS. He told the world a falsehood, and almost 40 years later, that falsehood is still being repeated as the truth.

Thank you for the opportunity to address that small point. As I said, I do agree with you on every other point.

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