WELCOME Dr. Bernie Siegel!
He’s the best-selling author, teacher and retired pediatric surgeon who has been helping us all rethink—and expand—the healing process for three decades. I’m especially thankful to Dr. Siegel for encouraging readers to get my memoir, Every Day We Are Killing Cancer. One of his major themes is the importance of doing everything we can to raise our spirits—and keep ourselves focused on happiness. That’s very much my message, too, in my writing and in my own workshops, Go Beyond Treatment. I know you’re going to enjoy this brief excerpt from Bernie’s new chapter called simply: Laugh Out Loud …
LAUGH OUT LOUD
By DR. BERNIE SIEGEL
(From his new book, The Art of Healing: Uncovering Your Inner Wisdom and Potential for Self-Healing)
LAUGHTER may be one of the purest of the healing arts. What I am telling you is that laughter is one of the best therapeutic activities Mother Nature provides us with, and it doesn’t cost a cent. True laughter is an outburst of expression of breath that involves the vocal cords and comes from deep in the belly. It’s caused by an irresistible urge to express surprise, mirth, joy and delight. Laughter stimulates the release of endorphins. These chemicals flood the body with a feel-good sensation that reaches every cell, delivering a message that says: Life is worth living, so do everything you can to survive.
Unlike the days when I was training as a physician, today we have studies documenting that cancer patients who laughed or practiced induced laughter several times a day lived longer than a control group who did not. Even so, in medical school doctors still aren’t taught the value of laughter as therapy. I certainly wasn’t in medical school; my patients were my teachers. They, the natives, taught me, the tourist.
I recall one day walking into the room of a patient, a lovely woman who I cared about, and she was dealing with a serious illness and several associated complications. I approached her room thinking about how I was going to help her and worrying about her treatment. When I entered her room she asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Why are you asking me that?” I responded.
“Your face and forehead are all wrinkled.”
“I am thinking about how to help you.”
“Think in the hallway, then,” she said. “I need you to smile when you come in here.” She was right. I needed an attitude adjustment to be a better physician for her, and it was an adjustment I happily made. The best doctors learn from the critiques and coaching supplied by their patients, nurses and families. I learned from all of these people that when I lightened up, encouraged laughter in others, and practiced it myself, everybody benefited.
Scientists have studied the effects of laughter on the body and identified a number of psychological benefits. Laughter increases activity in the immune system, giving “good” killer cells a boost, especially in their ability to target viruses, some tumors, and cancer cells. Measurements of immune system components show a lingering beneficial effect from laughter that lasts into the next day. Laughter appears to fight infection and abrasion or chemical insults to the upper tract of the respiratory system. Laughter is a natural muscle-relaxant; at the same time, it provides a good cardiac and diaphragm workout, improving the body’s capacity to use oxygen. This makes it an ideal activity for those whose ability to exercise is limited. Laughter also improves mood and decreases patients’ perception or awareness of pain. As in the case of appropriate exercise, there are no negative side effects to laughter.
So I recommend that you practice the expression of giggles and guffaws; become an artist, and fill your palette with laughter. Remember it’s not healthy to be serious and normal. Trying to be normal is only for those who feel inadequate. So be an infectious carrier. Spread joy and healing, and keep the artist within you alive.
CARE TO READ MORE?
OUR IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH DR. BERNIE SIEGEL: Read The Spirit Editor David Crumm talks at length with medical pioneer Dr. Bernie Siegel about his life’s work, his new book—and the importance of encouraging good humor.
OUR RESIDENT EXPERT IS RABBI BOB ALPER: Bob is the only active rabbi in the U.S. who also is a full-time standup comic. Millions enjoy his routines on satellite radio as well. His new book is Thanks. I Needed That. (Perfect for holiday gift giving in November and December!)
CAREGIVING EXPERT & AUTHOR BENJAMIN PRATT: Ben writes an entire chapter on the importance of laughter in his book A Guide for Caregivers. More recently, Benjamin wrote a column on Interactive Laughter.
COMEDIAN & INSPIRATIONAL AUTHOR SUSAN SPARKS: ReadTheSpirit interviewed Susan on her amazing career in ministry and humor, especially her book Laughing Your Way to Grace.
CATHOLIC WRITER JAMES MARTIN SJ: ReadTheSpirit’s David Crumm also interviewed the famous Catholic journalist Father James Martin about his book on “holy humor,” Between Heaven and Mirth.