Photo of a woman showing happiness.

By Willie T. Ong, MD (Internist-Cardiologist)

Who says watching television is bad? Recent studies show that watching funny TV shows can improve one’s health. When you feel stressed from work, you can deliberately make yourself happier by filling your minds with happy thoughts and positive news. It really makes instinctive sense, and now science is beginning to prove it.

A study from the University of California Irvine College of Medicine says that anticipating a good event can help improve one’s mood. Two days before watching a funny video, the participants already became happier. Levels of depression dropped 51%, confusion went down 36%, anger fell 19% and fatigue dropped 15%.

            Immediately after watching the funny video, the viewers’ mood improved even further. Depression and anger dropped by an amazing 98%, fatigue fell by 87%, and tension was reduced by 61%.

“Watching a funny video can stimulate the body’s ability to manage stress and fight disease,” says Lee Berk, the study’s lead researcher and a professor of medicine at UC Irvine College of Medicine.

Laughter Is The Best Medicine

            The value of a good laugh has been known for almost 3,000 years, when King Solomon said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Later on, William Shakespeare wrote in The Taming of the Shrew, “And frame your mind to mirth and merriment, which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life.”

            Dr. Lee Berk draws inspiration from such sources and his research on the subject date back to the 1970s. These “laughter studies,” also called the Loma Linda University Studies, reveal several physiologic changes in the body when we let out a hearty laugh.

First, the natural killer cells of the body increases in number and activity. These cells attack viruses and tumor cells. Second, more T cells (a type of white blood cell) are activated to fight enemies. The antibody immunoglobulin A, which protects our upper respiratory tract, also increases.

            More importantly, the levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, decrease when one laughs. Cortisol acts by constricting our blood vessels which is harmful. On the opposite side, our body releases good endorphins when we laugh. Endorphins are the chemicals that make you happy.

            Can laughter cure cancer and heart disease? Probably not. But it can certainly lessen the pain of cancer and help our bodies fight off disease.

If watching funny TV shows is good for you, then the opposite can probably be harmful. Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine experimented with two groups of people. One group watched the comedy King Pin while the other group watched the drama Saving Private Ryan. After seeing the assigned movie, all the subjects’ blood vessels were measured. The result? The comedy movie causes blood vessels to dilate, which is beneficial, while the stressful movie causes the vessels to constrict, which is bad and may lead to a heart attack.

Funny Videos In Hospitals

            As a result of these “laughter studies,” Loma Linda University and Medical Center has implemented several unique programs for their patients, which other hospitals can take a cue from.

A Laughter Library was started which includes stocks of humorous books, comics and videos patients can borrow. Second, the television channels in the hospital have been modified to feature more humorous shows, like Mr. Bean and Charlie Chaplin.

In addition, Dr. Berk with Dr. Barry Bittman formulated the Smile Profile questionnaire, which helps doctors identify what kind of humor each patient prefers. Based on the results, doctors can prescribe a “humor prescription,” which is a specific list of videos, TV shows and books for the patient to enjoy.

            At present, new and exciting studies on laughter are being done in cooperation with the Entertainment Industry and medical institutions. Future studies will look into the use of laughter to help kids with cancer, depression and other illnesses.

But even before the results arrive, we already know from previous researches that laughter is good for you. Here are some tips:

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn to laugh at yourself and your problems.
  2. Don’t worry why they’re laughing. Just participate.
  3. Try to laugh 15 minutes in a day. It’s good for the cardiovascular system.
  4. Look for humor in various daily situations, just don’t laugh at the expense of others.
  5. Since laughter is infectious, you may associate with funny and positive people. Avoid negative and gloomy people.
  6. It’s okay to watch entertainment shows. They’re relaxing and fun to watch. Singing and chatting with a friend is also good for one’s health.
  7. Choose to watch funny movies, even watching happy channels like Disney Channel and Comedy Central.
  8. Choose newspapers that don’t sensationalize the news. It’s not good for the digestion to eat breakfast while reading bad news. Read the lifestyle, entertainment and health sections.
  9. Think funny and think positive. As Dr. Berk’s study shows, when we hope for a positive outcome and anticipate good things in our life, our health will also improve. Let’s all make use of the healing power of laughter.

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