Changing a Lifetime of Habits Part 1

Posted by Lloyd on May 13, 2011

If some clown plays a stupid April Fool’s Day joke on you this weekend, which is better for your health: to laugh or to get angry?

There’s been a lot of medical research on that question, but the answer is still uncertain.

Dr. Judith Kupersmith, a neuropsychiatrist at Texas Tech’s Medical Center, says a daily dose of laughter can bring serious health benefits. Doctor of the University of Maryland’s Center for Humor Studies is not convinced. He said studies he’s seen show that most researchers are still in doubt about that.

Dr. Bruce Hensel, chief medical correspondent, tends to agree with Mintz, but said even if we don’t know the answer yet, it is a fact that people who are able to enjoy a good laugh are probably dealing better with stress. That can mean they won’t fall ill as often and will recover faster when they do.

Humor is “a high-level defense against anxiety,” Kupersmith said. It can take the edge off a stressful situation and it also helps people deal with aggression. “When a person is feeling aggression, they can control those feelings by saying something humorous, something the opposite of what they are feeling,” she said.

Stress is a serious threat to emotional health, Kupersmith said, “and in today’s high-stress environment, we are all looking for stress reduction and ways of coping.”

Kupersmith sees stress as a particular problem among adolescents, who “have it much harder today than years ago, even with the economic advantages they often have now. We look at them and see that they have cars, they have clothes, they have money, so why are they stressed? We see the problem in younger and younger children. Their childhood is getting shorter and shorter.”

Kupersmith said there is much interest in research on the interaction of the body and mind, and the psychological, neurological and immunological systems. It has been shown that the more stress one has, the less able one is to fight off illness. “By using humor and monitoring laughter for a certain period of time, researchers can compare blood counts in cancer patients, for instance, and are finding that the immune system is healthier in those who laugh.”

Laughter can boost physical health in four ways, she said. It enhances the cardiovascular system, improves circulation and oxygen exchange, stimulates the nervous system, and increases endorphins, which help block pain.

Mintz said he thought the health benefits of humor involve “reaching a long way down the holistic ladder.” Mintz, a historian, has been studying the role of humor in American culture for 35 years.

He said a difficulty with humor studies is that one person’s joke is another person’s insult. Is an April Fool’s Day joke only a clever prank, or a rude, crude assault? Some Maryland students once offered a pie-ing service. For a fee, they would give a professor a custard pie in the face. The professors were not amused. They filed assault charges, and the students spent time in jail.

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