Imagine a prescription that reads: “Take two doses of Lily Tomlin, followed by one dose of Charlie Chaplin, and rinse with an episode of I Love Lucy. Repeat as necessary and call me in the morning.” That is exactly what political journalist Norman Cousins decided to prescribe for himself during his treatment for a life-threatening disease.

Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, whose book was the basis of the Hollywood movie Patch Adams,also extols the health benefits of humor. He wrote, “Health is based on happiness — from hugging and clowning around to finding joy in family and friends, satisfaction in work and ecstasy in nature and the arts.”

Humor is a universal experience. Nearly everyone knows how it feels to experience something humorous. Someone tells a joke, makes a witty comment, draws a funny cartoon, or has a slip of the tongue, and bystanders are suddenly struck by how funny it is. They smile, chuckle, burst out laughing, or experience a sense of pleasant well-being. Humor is such a commonplace occurrence for most people that it may seem strange to explore it.

Although humor is often lighthearted, it adds perspective to life and helps people deal with stressors, from minor irritations such as being cut off in traffic to more challenging difficulties like life-threatening illnesses.

Humor and laughter are healing and connect people with each other. Laughter is also great exercise. It uses the breathing muscles, increases heart rate and oxygenation, and can cause distraction, thus promoting relaxation. Nearly all of us have laughed until our sides hurt or until we collapsed in a giggling fit over a silly experience.

Laughter makes people feel alive. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, “Our business is to be happy.” As long as people choose to laugh, it means they have affirmed life, no matter how burdensome it becomes. Although laughter is short lived, its effects are long lasting.

Myths About Humor

  • People need a reason to laugh, and, when they do laugh, it must be for a good reason.  Laughter is unreasonable, illogical, and irrational. The truth is that people do not need a good reason to laugh.
  • People laugh because they’re happy.  Actually, people are happy because they laugh.
  • A sense of humor is the same as laughter. Laughter is innate, but a sense of humor is learned.

Developing a Sense of Humor

You can develop or improve your sense of humor by trying the following (fun!) ideas:

  • Laugh at yourself, and give yourself permission to be human and make mistakes.
  • Visit a comedy club or listen to humorous CDs on the way to work.
  • Pay attention to your own self-talk and replace your negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Collect funny material from comedy writers and comedians.
  • Tell secondhand jokes or stories.
  • Focus on being with funny people and on being someone others like to be with because you are pleasant.
  • Read more books (fiction and nonfiction) and watch less television.
  • Write a story, fable, or poem to improve your imagination and creativity.
  • Share your vision to make others laugh. Humor shared is humor doubled.
  • Learn to hyperexaggerate when describing a situation or story.
  • Develop a humor kit or tickler notebook with funny notes, letters, and love poems so you have a humor capsule of things that make you laugh or smile.
  • Plan to play. Have fun with toys. Put leisure activities on your calendar. Spend time doing nothing but looking at the sky, playing a game, or taking time to just be. Wear a wild hat or shirt. Draw, paint, or make something out of clay. Wander through a beautiful store. Play miniature golf, go bowling, dance, take a new class at your local community college, or find a new recipe and try it. Start a joy box filled with cards, notes, and things that bring a smile to your face.