Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Medical Humor

The alternative philosophies that advocate for the use of humor as a medicine transcend the definitions of health, diagnosis, and disease of conventional medical science. The use of humor as a medicine threatens those who maintain the modern worldview in which experts hold dominion and define what counts as evidence or proof. 

While humor may not cure high cholesterol or diabetes, the feel-good chemicals the brain releases when happy does contribute to minimizing the adverse effects of these and many other diseases of the body and mind. 

Anecdotal evidence of the physical benefits of humor are often dismissed as hearsay because they are untested or lack the needed expertise to "verify" results. Collective narratives of personal experience, however, are still a widely trusted source of medical knowledge, though in the past few years that has been changing. 

The Western world does not respect experience in the same way as does the Eastern world. Personal experience as evidence has waned with the trend toward formalism in medicine and science, with emphasis on research conducted by clinicians in experimental laboratories. 

Accepting only the viewpoints of clinicians who do not value the positive effects of humor is like contracting someone who cannot swim to coach an aspiring Olympic champion on the breast stroke. Understanding the molecular structure of water as it interacts with matter, so to speak, is only 1/2 of the picture. 

Despite an ancient history of use in other cultures, humor was only introduced to Western medicine in the early 20th century, the most famous story of humor therapy presented by Norman Cousins, the then editor of the Saturday Review. According to the story, Mr. Cousins, under the supervision and treatment of his physician, checked himself out of a hospital and into a hotel where he proceeded to cure himself of an illness with a self-invented regimen of laughter (from watching Three Stooges movies) and vitamins. 

While book of Proverbs in the Bible mentions the health benefits of humor, advocates for humor as an alternative medicine has been slow to take root. 

The anecdotes presented in this blog suggest a different worldview, wherein "laughing" does not equate to impairment. Accounts of how laughter has a sense of flow to it demonstrate that humor contributes to wellbeing or optimal experiences of consciousness. Consistent with descriptions found in other applications of the flow experience (athletes, artists, musicians), laughter enhances our ability to meet and manage challenges arising from impairment due to chronic physical or mental health conditions. 

Advocates of using humor as a medicine usually describe its effects as contributing to a sense of harmony, autonomy, empowerment, order, and control over their actions and surroundings. This challenges myopic views of laughter as ridiculous or as being a waste of time in modern Western culture, and offers a perspective that is founded on authentic experience. 

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