Laugh for the Health of It
Patients and medical practitioners alike have long believed in the healing power of humor. It is claimed that humor not only affects patients' moods, but can actually help them recover faster.
Several studies, as well as a lot of anecdotal evidence, seem to support this. Patients in better spirits are known to have higher immune cell counts. Some have even claimed to have healed themselves of serious illnesses by reading comics and watching comedies.
Despite all this, many researchers are not convinced. They point to the fact that many afflictions have been known to disappear spontaneously, with or without a daily dose of laughter. They also say that while optimism in general does seem to be related to better health, it is hard to tell which comes first.
Humor in times of stress, however, clearly makes us feel better. On one level, it takes our minds off our troubles and relaxes us. On another, it releases powerful endorphins in the brain that act to alleviate pain.
There are cases where the appreciation of a good joke is indeed directly related to a person's health. It can show, for example, whether a person has suffered damage to one particular area of the brain: the right frontal lobe.
Scientists confirmed this by having people read jokes and asking them to choose the funniest endings from a list. Subjects with normal brains usually chose endings that were based on a relatively complex synthesis of ideas. Subjects with specifically located brain damage, however, responded only to slapstick endings, which did not depend on a particular context. When pressed , the brain-damaged subjects saw the logic in the correct endings. They simply did not find them funny.
Of course, humor is largely an individual matter. The next time your friend does not get one of your jokes, there is no need to accuse him of being a lamebrain. However, you might suggest that he lighten up—for the health of it.